The spirit of 007!

I’ve been told I was mean to Lotus last week, referring to them as unreliable in my post about the fabulous Lupo GTI and my son’s limited mechanical knowledge, so let’s deal with that straight away. I love Lotus deeply and was reminded of it when I had the opportunity to drive my friend Erik’s Elise a couple of weeks ago (I did a piece on when he bought it that you’ll find here), but I maintain that to describe them as reliable at the level of a modern VW would be about as true as claiming that Sweden plays entertaining football.

Growing up in the 80’s one of my real dream cars was indeed a Lotus, however for obvious reasons not the Elise. It was the true supercar-like Lotus Esprit that enchanted me, from the original, 007 one to the later versions. To me it looked cooler than a Ferrari and comparing a 308/328 to an Esprit, I think that holds true even today, as I was able to determine when by chance driving into a Lotus club gathering in the Swiss Alps a couple of weeks ago. One owner was kind enough to give me a close-up tour of his Esprit V8, and that’s obviously a very good reason to look closer at this legendary car, as we’ll do this week!

The clean, wedge-like shape of the S1

The Esprit was a true long-runner, coming to market in 1976 as replacement for the Europa, and being produced all the way until 2004, i.e. for 28 years. The wedge-shaped original car was designed by Giorgio Giugiaro and the Esprit’s father and developer was of course none other than legendary Lotus founder Colin Chapman, so the Esprit was a true symbiosis of Italian design and Chapman’s view of what a sports car should be like (read light-weight!). And then it also became a film star, featured in two James Bond films (“They spy who loved me” and “For your eyes only”), as well as in the 1990 classic “Pretty Woman”, where Julia Roberts teaches Richard Gere how to use a stickshift in the hills above LA.

When the Esprit was launched in the mid-70’s, Lotus was still a big name in Formula 1 with Mario Andretti as the star driver. Andretti took his world championship title in 1978 in a Lotus, and this was to be Lotus’s last of a total of seven F1 titles. It was perhaps not a surprise therefore that the first version of the Esprit (called S1, Series 1) actually had a lot in common with an F1 car: the driving position is pretty much the same, i.e. half-lying , the handling is perhaps not on the level of an F1 car but still superb, the whole car is 1.11 metres high, i.e. low enough to make an Evora feel like a family sedan, and with the engine located directly behind the seats, the sound is said to be fantastic, although perhaps not at the level of a 70’s F1 car. The S1 had a four-cylinder engine that until 1978 only put out 160 hp in Europe and 140 hp in the US, however the car weighed only 1050 kg and was therefore still as fast as a 911 SC. In terms of interior materials and quality, let’s just note that the world has come a long way since the 70’s, although there is actually more cloth in the S1 than in a modern Elise…

Enough space for two to lie in the 70’s, checkered seats

The S2 was introduced in 1978 with some minor cosmetic revisions but most famously also in the John Player Special edition with the same black paint with gold stripes as Andretti’s F1 world championship car. The big technical innovation was however the introduction of the turbo in 1980 that took the performance to 213 hp and gave the car a top speed of 240 km/h and a sprint to 100 km/h in around six seconds. The S3 which succeeded the S2 in 1983 was the list incarnation of the “original” Esprit and remained largely unchanged, albeit with a bit more power and offered both with and without turbo until 1987.

The second version of the Esprit that came out in 1988 and was designed by Philip Stevens was a largely different car. Although staying true to the original shape, the design was much more 80’s-like, but also more polished and offering occupants more room in an improved interior. The production process was also improved, as was the car’s rigidity. The mechanical components and engines would however remain pretty much the same until 1994 when the Lotus 3.5-litre V8 engine with twin turbos was introduced in the S4, taking the Esprit from a fast sports car to supercar territory. The V8 put out a very healthy 350 hp, 50 more than the regular, 2.2 litre S4 that was still produced, leading to a 100 km/h sprint in less than 4.5 seconds and a top speed of more than 280 km/h. From here on the Esprit remained largely unchanged until the end of production in 2004. It should however be noted that in addition to the main models described above, there was also a multitude of smaller series produced, often in very low numbers, and all of which are of course real gems today.

The second Esprit iteration looks – and is – a far more modern car

Coming back to the Lotus gathering I ran into a couple of weeks ago, even if this was a dream car in my youth, I had never even sat in an Esprit and was thus about as nervous as a 15-year old on his first date when I was offered to do so. That I’m no long 15 then became very obvious, as I tried to maneovre myself with some kind of elegance into the very low seat, with the smile on the owner’s face indicating I was less successful than I thought. Once you’re in and have assumed the half-lying but not uncomfortable position, you quickly note that visibility is comparable to how a good friend of mine says you should live life, i.e. with a big front screen and a small rear mirror. That’s to say that it’s very limited in all directions but forward, and if you look sideways your eyes will be on the same height as bystanders’ behinds. You also have a very limited feel for how large the car is, but interestingly, whereas back in the day the Esprit looked like a large car, today it feels rather small – as so often is the case.

There are worse surprises you can run into in the Alps!

The owner was kind enough to turn the key and rev the V8 of his S4 a bit, and the sound is of course wonderful and as he said, also a constant companion on the trip given where the engine is located, so you’d better enjoy it. Using a devoted Esprit owner as source for any kind of objective information is obviously not ideal, but going by his enthusiasm I have to believe that the car is indeed the tremendous drive the looks promise, with almost perfect balance, great steering and a gearshift that is far more precise than the rather chubby changer would have you believe. I did however sense a bit of hesitation as to whether the V8 is a better engine option than the four-cylinder, and even got an admission that from a budget perspective, it’s probably the four-pot you should go for…

A nice – but low – place to be!

Speaking of money, Esprits have been on the way up price-wise for the last few years. Around 10.000 were built all in all but many have died far too early and the offer is thus very limited, especially if you’re looking for a special series where you have to be prepared to pay big bucks. The market for good cars starts somewhere around EUR 40.000 and goes up to six figures for really well kept, low-mileage cars, or special series. Whether you go for the original Esprit (S1-S3) or the updated version is a matter of taste: the early cars seduce with their clean lines and 70’s charm, but the later ones are clearly more liveable, comfortable and, if I dare say so, reliable. As for the best engine, the four-cylinder is probably the sensible way to go, potentially even without the turbo given the car’s low weight. So to end where we started, whatever version you go for, do make sure you have enough of a budget left to give it the love and maintenance it will no doubt require. Then again, so does a 308/328 or any other sports or supercar from the same era. And choosing between those, at least to me, 007 was always cooler than Magnum!

Ruf – the better, Bavarian 911!

I think we can all agree that if one car was to symbolize all sports cars through the years, it would have to be the 911. It’s one of the most legendary cars ever built, and one which has more lives than a cat, but also one which has evolved such as to always stay on top of its game. Matching the 911 has been difficult for any other sports car builder, not to speak of really small outfits with limited resources. And yet one of these, a family business based in the Bavarian town of Pfaffenhausen, is doing it successfully since more than 50 years, and is perhaps the most legendary Porsche specialist of all. I’m of course talking about Ruf, the small company which restores and perfects 911’s to new heights for a small number of very fortunate – and very rich – clients. Looking at what has made Ruf so legendary is however completely free, and that’s what we’ll do this week!

Where it all started, more than 50 years ago.

Launching any business in Germany in 1939 doesn’t necessarily sound like very good timing, but that’s what Alois Ruf did. It was a car repair shop and how it fared during the war is anyone’s guess, but it did survive and Alois also made some money on the side by working as a Sunday bus driver. Nothing very remarkable about that, until in 1963 his bus was overtaken by a Porsche 356 which went on to slid off the road and end up on the roof. Alois took the driver to the local hospital and promised to repair his car. So he did, and this was Ruf’s first contact with a Porsche. He bought it from the unlucky owner after the restoration and a few years later in Munich, he was stopped by a man offering him anything he wanted for his 356 – including his own 911. Alois accepted and realized two things: firstly, that the 911 was an even better car than the 356, and in his eyes with lots of further potential. And secondly, that all Porsche drivers are nutcases.

Ruf thus started by repairing Porsche’s, mostly 911’s, thereby learning everything there was to know about parts and the car’s general construction. As we get to the late 70’s, Alois Jr. had taken over the company from his father who died in 1974, and Porsche was planning to discontinue the 911 and replace it by the 928. The number of 911 versions was therefore reduced to the basis version and the turbo, but with the large following of 911 owners Ruf had as clients, Alois quickly realized that this wouldn’t work – the 911 crowd had precious little interest in a large GT that didn’t have the engine in the back, at least as replacement for the 911. He didn’t need more to start developing an alternative in 1979, which would become Ruf’s first, and to this day, most legendary car: the CTR1, also known as the Yellowbird.

The Ruf CTR1

The CTR1 was based on the Carrera 3.2 shell and the 935 engine and was built both on frames provided by Porsche, but also from existing 911’s. 29 “original” CTR1’s were built, with another 20-30 as reworked 911’s. Weight was reduced by removing the back seats and sound-deafening material, and where Ruf felt they had better parts to offer, the didn’t hesitate to replace Porsche parts with these, such as the braking system which became known as the best in the car world. Thanks to a double-KKK turbo, performance was increased to 469 hp for a total weight of the car of 1150 kg. In a famous test in the US magazine “Road & Track” in 1987, the CTR1 was matched against notably the 959, the Countach and the Testarossa, beating them all in top speed and thereby becoming recognized as the fastest car in the world, with a top speed of 339 km/h. The test car Road & Track drove was yellow, which gave it its more famous name Yellowbird. Ruf took the CTR1 to the Nürburgring as well and became known as having been there not to set the fastest time, but rather to record the most drifts…

The Ruf CTR2 with the air-leading rear wing.

Production of the successor CTR2, based this time on the 993 Turbo chassis, started in 1995. The philosophy was very much the same as with the CTR1, namely that every part on the car should have a clear purpose. In Alois’s words, a Ruf should fit the driver like a pair of tight trousers. The CTR2 does however have far more styling elements and the advanced thinking that goes into the cars can for example be seen in the CTR2’s rear wing, which is formed such as to provide down force but also lead additional cooling air into the engine. The car was offered both as rear- and all-wheel drive and a long list of other improvements, including a kevlar body with lightweight glass. The engine was this time based on the 962 Group C engine with 520-580 hp depending on year of production. Hereby Ruf reclaimed the title as fastest serial-produced car in the world, at 10 km/h more than the CTR1, now beating notably the Jaguar XJ220 and the Ferrari F50. All in all 28 CTR2’s were produced, around half of them in an optimized “Sport” version with up to 702 hp, raced notably in Pike’s Peak but still fully street legal.

The Ruf CTR3 which was presented at the 20-year anniversary of the CTR1 in 2007, no longer looked like the corresponding 911, as this time Ruf had built its own rear half, fitted to the 911 front. The 3.7-litre, twin-turbo 701 hp flat-six engine was mid rather than rear-mounted, as in the Cayman. A Clubsport version was trimmed to 777 hp, with both cars achieving top speeds of over 375 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of three seconds. The standard car was discontinued in 2012 but the Clubsport version is built to this day. It’s not clear how many have been built all in all but it’s a small number, as with its predecessors.

The CTR3

the CTR’s 1-3 are the most well-known Ruf cars, but many others have been built from scratch or from existing 911’s through the years, as unique cars or in very small series. Of these, it is still the CTR1 that as no other has come to symbolize the Ruf philosophy and which is also the closest related to later cars, such as the SCR and the anniversary CTR the company now works on. It’s easy to focus on the performance and top speed when talking about Ruf, or indeed on its strong rally pedigree that I haven’t covered here, but it’s also worth remembering the tradition and craftmansship which goes into every car built. Every screw is tightened by hand by what almost feels like a family of technicians, many who have worked for the company for 30-40 years. There is great pride in the cars built, many of which today end up in Asia, but also in the production of parts that are difficult to get elsewhere. Alois Jr. is the company’s CEO and his wife Estonia handles marketing. Today the production consists of a variety of models where my favourite is hands down the Ruf SCR, a car I had the pleasure of seeing at the car show in Geneva in 2018. Not only does it look like a classic 911, only slightly better, but it also marries a 510 hp naturally aspirated flat-six to a weight of only 1250 kg. I personally spent more time in the Ruf boot that year than in all the others combined, where Estonia was happy to answer all questions I had.

The SCR in the Ruf boot in Geneva 2018 – note “Ruf” in the headlights…

There are Ruf’s for sale out there but they’re obviously few and far between and usually have six-zero price tags. The other alternative is of course to take your 911 to Pfaffenhausen and have it modified to your own specifications, and here the price will depend on what those are. Ruf will even build you an electric 911 today, should you for some reason want that. Luckily, business is good, and Ruf promises to be around for another few years. We should all be grateful for the fantastic cars, but also as what the company represents has become a very rare commodity in today’s world. Let’s hope companies like Ruf and others where true craftsmanship still rules will still have a place in the motoring world of tomorrow!

PS. In other news, the car vlogger Jayemm also picked up on the “Ferrari FF being the best bargain out there” angle in a video from this week you can see here (if you missed my post on it from March, see here). He makes the point that given the future of naturally aspirated V12’s looks about as promising as being one of the last remaining dinosaurs 65 million years ago, these could well become collectibles with rising values as a result. If you’re in the market for one, and I don’t see why you shouldn’t be, something worth keeping in mind!

When Volvo went racing!

As mentioned in my before-last post on the Alfa GTV6 a couple of weeks ago, one of the reasons I liked it so much was that pretty much all other cars you would see in the mid-80’s on the streets of Stockholm were various Volvos and Saabs, which to a young teenager were all rather boring. In the case of Volvo this was rather intentional, as the company at the time put security and practicality far ahead of any kind of driving thrills or exciting design. But as the 80’s became the 90’s things started to change, and when a few years later Volvo started racing with a large estate, by then it was clear that nothing was the same any longer at the Volvo factory in Torslanda, next to Gothenburg. No car examplified Volvo’s “new” profile better than the top of the line 850 T5-R, a racing estate that has today become a rarity on our streets. But how did it all happen, and should you secure a T5-R before it’s too late? That’s what we’ll look closer at this week!

Volvo 850 T5-R – no other Volvo had ever been like it

When the Volvo 850 was introduced in 1991, it was a small revolution for both Volvo and many of its owners, arguably less passionate than Alfistas and other more engaged car owner groups, but still with a firm idea as to what a Volvo should be like. And for as long as anyone cared to remember, large Volvo estates had been rear-wheel drive and in their top version fitted with a big, longitudinal six-cylinder engine up front. The concept is actually quite surprising for a brand selling on practicality and security in… Sweden, a country not really known for its warm temperatures and with quite long, snowy and icy winters. There’s a saying that the when a client would complain about a slight lack of traction in his 945, the Volvo salesman would tell him to throw in a sand bag or two in the back. I never tried that, but I did own a Volvo 965 at one point and ended up precisely in this situation on the way up to the Alps. My mother was part of the trip, so we solved it by moving her back to the cavernous boot, to give it a bit of extra weight. It worked as intended, so I guess the Volvo people had a point.

Four-wheel drive is for whimps…

I realize I just compared my mother to a sand bag, so let’s perhaps move back to the 850. Not only was it front-wheel drive but it also introduced a five-cylinder, 2.3 litre transversal engine, a combination that would from then become the Volvo standard for the coming 25 years, in a clear break with the past. Presented to the world in 1991 first as a sedan and from 1993 as an estate, the latter was a bit smaller on the outside than Volvo’s earlier large estates, but thanks to the transversal engine as well as the preserved boxy shape, it still offered a comparable luggage space. This was important as until then estates, and especially Volvo estates were were bought for their practicality and not for their coolness, but that was about to change… Various engine options were available, none of them terribly exciting, except the top-of-the-range 850 Turbo with 225 hp that came out in 1994.

1994 will however go down in the 850 history for a different reason. Volvo had decided to participate in the at the time very popular British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), primarily as part of a marketing drive to try to add some spice to the company’s profile. The 850 sedan was expected to be the basis of the new racing car, but some marketing genius up in Gothenburg realized how much more attention an estate would gather, and so Volvo lined up the 850 estate for the 1994 championship together with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). The plan worked wonders in all respects. Seeing a Volvo estate on two wheels through the corners of British racing tracks was very memorable, and the cars were fast as well. They didn’t win the championship but they caused enough commotion for BTCC’s management to change the rules for 1995, forcing Volvo to switch to the sedan. From a marketing perspective that no longer mattered – Volvo had gotten all the attention they wanted, now the only needed to follow up with an 850 version that connected to the racing car – and so enter the 850 T-5R.

Dutchman Jan Lammers showing a different type of 2WD

The T5-R was introduced in 1995 and was based on the aforementioned 850 Turbo. Volvo worked together with Porsche (yep!) for the engine tuning that gave the engine another 18 hp, as well as the revised transmission. The mechanical developments were complemented by a large front spoiler and a rear wing which together made the car look rather cool and helped improve its wind resistance, enabling a time of around 7 seconds to 100 km/h and a top speed of 245 km/h. At the time, this made the T5-R one of the fastest estates in the world, and (by a margin) the fastest Volvo ever built. Available with a five-speed manual or a slow and not very motivated four-speed auto box, colour options were limited to a very bleak “cream yellow” or a traditional black.

The T5-R was so successful that Volvo had to revise the planned limited production of 2500 cars of the 1995 model year, extending it into 1996 and adding dark green as a third colour. When production stopped in 1996 a total of around 7.000 cars had been built. In the same year the successor 850R came out (offering far more colours!), essentially the same car but never being able to connect to the T5-R glory, also since it wasn’t a limited production run. A year later production of the 850 ended as it was replaced by the S70/V70.

The T5-R has part-alcantara seats, otherwise it’s a standard 850

Driving a T5-R doesn’t bring the same ketchup effect as an old 80’s-style turbo, but still gives much of the same feeling. Front-wheel drive may be beneficial on snowy roads in Sweden but as everyone knows, the concept does cause some limitations when you associate it to a relatively powerful, front-mounted turbo engine, meaning you need to manage power to the front wheels carefully at red lights and on curvy roads. Otherwise the T5-R offers all the qualities of a Volvo estate in a very cool, 90’s shape and remains an autobahn express par excellence until this day. And it still feels very fast, also since it weighs in at below 1500 kg.

Coming back to the initial question then, should you add a T5-R to your driveway while you still can? I certainly wouldn’t mind, given the car’s inherent qualities but already today, it’s easier said than done. Very few 850 T5-R’s are still out there and most of these are real high-mileage cars, with anything from 250′ to 350′ km on the clock. That’s often the case with old Volvos and is obviously a great testament to the quality of the cars, but it also means you need to be very thorough when considering one. Price-wise the T5-R is on the way up with cars coming in at between EUR 15.000-30.000 depending on mileage. It doesn’t end there though since to my mind, the only T5-R you should consider is a cream yellow, manual estate. If you find one of those you don’t want to miss it since not only is it one of the coolest estates from the 90’s, it’s also a car that played a significant role in Volvo’s history!

Alpina – the exclusive BMW cousin!

Everyone knows AMG, the independent company specialized in the tuning of Mercedes engines that the latter took over in 2005 and that is since fully owned by MB. Next to building the most powerful version in most product lines, having AMG inhouse also enables MB to stick various AMG logos on lots of other models as well (and whether that “logo inflation” is a good thing or not is something that certainly can, and perhaps will be discussed in a future post). AMG is thereby comparable to the M-division at BMW. M didn’t start as an individual company, but today represents the same for BMW that AMG does for Mercedes, i.e. various cosmetic sports packages as well as the most powerful models.

But if you’re a BMW fan. there’s also the option of getting an Alpina. To clarify, given this is sometimes misunderstood, Alpina is neither an M car badged differently, nor is it a brand owned by BMW. It is something far more exclusive. An Alpina can be viewed as the grand tourer version of BMW’s M offer, different in character, very individual and built in small quantities. BMW and Alpina work closely together since more than 50 years, but BMW has no ownership in the little known manufacturer from the small town of Buchloe, close to Munich. Today we’ll look closer at the company’s history and whether, if you’re a market for a “real” BMW M, you should consider the corresponding Alpina before deciding. I don’t think I’m ruining the party by answering that last question straight away: in most cases, yes you should!

Burkhard Bovensiepen from Buchloe (an alliteration as good as any) could have had an easy if not very exciting life, had he decided to take over the family’s thriving typewriter business. But somehow, back in the early sixties, he decided that this wasn’t what he wanted his life to be about. A couple of years earlier, Bovensiepen had owned a Fiat 1500 he felt needed more power, so on a trip to Italy he had visited a local tuner who sold him the standard kit of improved camshaft and double Weber carburettors, thereby managing to squeeze out a bit more power from the small engine. Unfortunately though the treatment wasn’t long-lived, and the motor literally fell apart on Bovensiepen’s way back to Buchloe. That convinced him of two things: firstly, more power was fun (as long as the engine doesn’t break), and secondly, professional tuning had to be done in a way adapated to the specific car, rather than as standardized after-market kits for various engines. On the basis of that philosophy Alpina was born in 1962, and Bovensiepen decided to focus on cars from the automaker right around the corner in Munich: BMW.

Alpina’s first car, the 1500, in an alpine setting!

BMW had at this time launched the 1500 (yep, same name and nope, that wouldn’t be possible today!) that was to become Alpina’s first project car. Bovensiepen bought one and started working on the carburettors, exhaust and various other parts, hereby improving the output by 10 hp to 90 hp. The rather basic marketing effort consisting of sticking notes under the wipers of BMW 1500’s, inciting owners to give their cars the Alpina treatment for around 1000 DM. The very basic marketing proved surprisingly successful and in 1965, BMW approved of the modifications and went as far as granting Alpinas the same guarantee package as the original cars. That’s how a close collaboration that lasts until this day started, with Alpina, initially with only 8 employees, tuning most new BMW models and with time, also offering further options for interior design and suspension.

During the 70’s Alpina competed in German car races with its own team next to BMW, in both cases based on the BMW 02-series. Both teams were very successful and with drivers such as Niki Lauda, James Hunt and Jacky Ickx, they would go on to win most races both in the European and German championships, be it touring, rallies or mountain races. In 1977, Alpina ended the racing adventure as other projects had now become more important, most notably three new developments: BMW Alpina B6 2,8 based on the 3-series, the B7-Turbo based on the 5-series, and the B7 Turbo Coupé, based on the 6-series. Both B7’s, thanks to a KKK turbo and intercooler, would develop up to 330 hp and had a top speed over 260 km/h, but were at the same time very civilized to drive, thereby setting the mark for Alpina’s niche: powerful but not edgy, more grand tourer than sports car.

The Alpina B7 Turbo Coupé – powerful yet civilized

Alpina continued to grow and develop through the years, although the number of cars built on each specific BMW model in the 80’s and 90’s could be as low as 20-30, so very small series, obviously making these very sought-after today. A further recognition of the seriousness of the Alpina proposition came in 1983 when the company was registered as a car brand in Germany, i.e. not just a tuner. Other notable developments were the first bi-turbo engine in 1989 and the first diesel Alpina ten years later, in 1999. Today, diesels make up close to half the cars produced.

It’s difficult to summarize all the models Alpina have worked on over the years and the highlights are to a certain extent a matter of personal preferences, but a couple of noteworthy ones are clearly the two BMW Alpina Roadsters based on the Z1 and the Z8 (and where Alpina fitted an auto box to the otherwise manual Z8 to boost US sales), as well as the Alpina B6 GT3, based on the BMW 6-series and that in 2010 marked Alpina’s return to racing, going on to win the German GT3 series the year after. Today the company offers a version of most BMW models, including the big X7 SUV (of which there is no M-version). Many of the engine parts as well as gearbox, instruments and wheels are today sent to BMW from Alpina. BMW then build and paint the cars before returning them to Alpina for fitting of tailor-made interiors and aerodynamic kits etc.

The B12 5.7 Coupé – rarely have wheels looked better on a car!

There’s basically three ways to distinguish an Alpina from the corresponding regular BMW: firstly by colour, at least if it’s in the specific Alpina green or blue, both rather bright and flashy, and colours Alpina also like to do interior stitching in. Secondly, by side stripes. Because yes, the stripes that to all intents and purposes look like something straight out of the 70’s and aren’t necessarily very elegant, is something Alpina still sticks on its cars if they owner wants them to. There seems to be roughly a 50/50 split between those opting for and against them. Finally though, and by far the nicest mark of an Alpina, are the lovely, 20-inch and beyond multi-spoke wheels. Interiors can be individualized and are again, often a matter of taste, but typically include different steering wheels, gauge clusters, seats, wood trim etc. Nothing very spectacular, and arguably also not always of good taste, but with a high degree of individualization.

An 80’s B6 interior – still BMW yet distinctive

Whether an Alpina is a better proposition than an M-car depends on what you’re looking for. Driving-wise it’s been described pretty well as the M-version being the track car, and the Alpina the car to get you to the track. After the racing era in the 70’s, Alpina’s focus has been to build powerful but easy to drive cars, which in most tests are described as less sporty than M-cars, but also a more rounded experience all in all. So it’s really up to your personal preferences. If you’re looking for the sports car characteristics of an M-car, that’s probably the way to go. If however you’re looking for more of a GT nature, then you really can’t go wrong with an Alpina. Warranties are the same as for any BMW car, and the local BMW garage will also not have any issues servicing it. The starting price of an Alpina tends to be close to the corresponding M-car (net of some equipment differences) with resale values typically higher, obviously due to the fact that in spite of its success, Alpina even today sticks to building no more than 1500-1700 cars per year. You’ll thus pay more if you buy a used one (especially if it’s one of the smaller series), but future values can be estimated to remain very stable. Given this, although there’s nothing wrong with answering the question on what car you drive with “BMW”, saying “Alpina” definitely has a more exclusive ring to it!

Hypercar winds from Argentina

There has been a lot about hypercars on the blog in the last weeks, at least relative to what there usually is. Starting with the post on Koenigsegg (see here) and following on with last week’s interview with Supercars Invest Fund’s Theis Gerner Stanek (see here), the latter notably mentioned his strong love for another supercar brand than Koenigsegg, the cars of which he referred to as true works of art. He was of course right, and it would feel incomplete to move on from supercars to other exciting themes without having looked a bit closer at the Argentinan-born artist Horacio Pagani and his masterpieces, commonly referred to as cars. This week is therefore about Pagani and its unique take on the hypercar segment!

As an Italian born and bred in Argentina, you may think that a man who has dedicated his life to building some of the world’s most extreme hypercars would be a flamboyant, loud character, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Although driven by his life-long passion, Horacio is a soft-spoken artist that grew up in the small town of Casilda in Argentina to which his great grandfather had emigrated from Como, Italy. He started drawing cars and motorcycles as a child, having a dream of one day building sports cars in Modena, far away from the Argentinian pampa. A few years later he went on to study fine arts and engineering while drawing Formula 2 and 3 cars in his spare time. He was so good at it that he was allowed to work with Renault formula cars, and through that met a certain Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio became so impressed by the young Horacio that he took upon him to write letters to the Italian sports car builders, telling them to hire him. Pagani himself was also convinced that his future was to be found somewhere in northern Italy, and returned to the old country before he knew he had a job. A while later, he did however get a call from Lamborghini and that’s when his career started for real.

The master himself: Horacio Pagani

Having spent some time wiping the floors in Sant’Agata, Horacio wasn’t shy about his ambition to become a great supercar builder¨ and made sure to tell the senior people at Lamborghini about it. He started to move up the ranks, ultimately becoming a chief engineer engaged with notably the Countach Evo and the Diablo. In the process he also became highly convinced of carbon fibre as a material for the future and tried to convince Lamborghini to buy a so called autoclave, basically a machine that would allow for larger usage of carbon fibre going forward. Lamborghini refused with as main motivation that Ferrari didn’t have one – perhaps not the most visionary type of business management… Horacio wouldn’t take no for an answer and borrowed enough money to buy his own autoclave. He left Lamborghini an in 1991 set up his own company – Pagani Automobili. The development of the Zonda now started, but it would take until 1999 before the first cars were finished.

No car maker uses as much carbon fibre as Pagani!

Let’s make a short pit stop here to point out some key differences to Koenigsegg, arguably Pagani’s only real comparable hypercar competitor. Firstly, although carbon fibre is a prominent material for both, it has always been the lead material for Pagani from the first prototype until today, very much at the heart of the company It’s everywhere, from the chassis, over the bodywork to the interior, and all in a very visible way. Secondly, unlike Koenigsegg, Pagani decided from the start not to develop his own engines, instead partnering up with AMG, a partnership that has lasted to this day. Thirdly, if Koenigsegg can be said to follow a Scandinavian, toned-down design language, Pagani couldn’t be more different.

If this isn’t your colour don’t worry – you can have it any way you want!

The Zonda C12 premiered in 1999 and was built through 2011, and new versions were again introduced in 2013 and as late as 2017. Around 130 Zondas have been built in total, in a mix of coupés and convertibles. Fangio, who helped launch Pagani’s career, was involved in the development of the car until his death in 1995. Built largely out of carbon fibre and carbon-based synthetic materials, the Zonda is light, weighing in at between 1100-1300 kg, which given the opulence notably in the interior is pretty impressive. It’s also a bit surprising given the wonderful but not very light 6-litre, naturally aspirated AMG V12 that sits in the middle of the car and in 1999 produced 394 hp, enough already then to give the Zonda a top speed of over 290 km/h. On later versions the engine volume was increased up to 7.3 litres and power up to 800 hp in the Zonda Revolucion, introduced in 2013. The initial C12 is therefore the only Zonda with a top speed under 300 km/h, the others are well above. It’s also noteworthy that until 2013, all Zondas had a 6-speed manual box, only then becoming a 6-speed sequential.

Introduced in 1999, the C12 was the first Pagani Zonda

Everything about the Zonda is spectacular. The four pipes in the back, the purpose-built carbon fibre body, the interior quality and materials – it just goes on. It’s however practically impossible to find two cars that are alike, given again the number of special versions, but also that owners can obviously tailor-make their cars pretty much as they want. Pagani has several times reiterated that building a Pagani easily costs ten times more than building a more normal car, but that part of his proposition is precisely never to compromise to save costs. The whole car is hand-built and each car takes more than a month to finish. The number of cars built is by the way not fully up to Pagani, it’s part of the agreement with AMG who will not deliver more than a pre-agreed number of engines. After all, AMG also does a bit of business with the mother company in Stuttgart…

The naturally aspirated V12 in a Zonda R

In 2012, Pagani introduced the successor Huayra (yep, pretty difficult to pronounce and if you’re wondering, both Huayra and Zonda are south-American winds), although both cars were in the end built in parallel until 2017. The Huayra can be said to be slightly toned-down in its looks, although it remains a spectacular car. It’s also a more modern car than the Zonda, with the body notably including “active” aerodynamic elements such as the two flaps behind the seats that rise during breaking. The gearbox is now a 7-speed sequential, but that it remains a single-clutch also show Pagani’s way of thinking: a double clutch would have added 70 kg in additional weight, thus cancelling out any advantage in acceleration obtained through quicker shifting. But even with a single-clutch box the Huayra is far from slow, with a 2.8 seconds time to 100 km/h and a top speed of 383 km/h.

The Huyara Roadster

The biggest change versus the Zonda however and the fact that many Pagani owners still prefer the latter, is the fact that the Huyara no longer has the naturally aspirated AMG V12, but rather a new, 6-litre, twin-turbo V12. It still comes from AMG and neither power output nore weight have suffered, but even those not obsessed by naturally-aspirated engines will note a far less spectacular engine note than in the Zonda. The Huayra was also built as coupé and convertible in a lot of different series and versions, with the last of around 300 cars said to have left the factory in 2020. Based on what happened with the Zonda that’s probably not the final date though, notably with rumours of a coming Huayra R (the R being the most extreme version of the Zonda) that would return to the naturally-aspirated V12.

There are also rumours of an all-new Pagani coming out soon (here probably defined as years rather than months) notably with talk of something aircraft-inspired (but then again maybe that’s the Huayra R). Few details are known, but one thing is sure: it will again be a multi-million creation largely out of carbon fibre, with an amazing interior and a large V12 engine behind the seats – hopefully at least, maybe a hybrid this time? Pampero is by the way a strong, northern wind that often blows down over Uruguay and Argentina. Whether Pagani stays with the wind theme and calls the new car Pampero or something else doesn’t really matter: Horacio more than achieved his dream as a boy of building true supercars, and he does it in a way that lets all of us all dream a little. If Koenigsegg is the Scandinavian supercar, then Pagani is very much the southern European one. Playing with the thought of which one you would choose if you could, is interesting!

Street finds: the A112 Abarth!

The morning dog walks in our sleepy village outside of Zurich usually don’t bring much in car excitement, and after a premature summer left Switzerland after Good Friday and had changed into a rather grey and chilly morning on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting much of anything. But then there it was, the car which from afar looked like a Mini, but on closer scrutiny was the today very rare A112, and as I was to discover, even a perfectly kept / restored 70 hp Abarth! Some of you will know the A112 as an Autobianchi, an Italian brand from the 70-80’s. Today these lovely small cars have become unusual, especially in one of the early 70’s series as this one was. Back in the day however, (when 70 hp in a small car was still something worth bragging about), the A112 was a frequent sight on the roads especially in southern Europe, and Autobianchi was on the technical forefront of motor engineering, at least in the small car segment. So a bit unplanned as street finds tend to be, this week we’ll have a closer look at the racy A112 Abarth!

The very cool 70 hp Abarth I saw on the streets, with stripes and a white roof!

Autobianchi had its roots in Bianchi, an Italian manufacturer of bicycles (cycle enthusiasts will know it very well!) and motorcycles founded in 1886. 20 years later Bianchi started producing cars as well, but that was met with a moderate success and by the 50’s, the firm was close to bankruptcy. To try to save what could be saved, together with Fiat and Pirelli, the car business was separated into Autobianchi, initially co-owned by the three companies but taken over by Fiat in 1968. Fiat’s idea with Autobianchi was to position it as a more exclusive version of the “regular” Fiats and a brand under which technical innovations could be tested without risking Fiat’s reputation. The most notable of these included the relatively new concept of combining front-wheel drive with Fiat’s first transverse engine. Autobianchi’s first models had names such as Primula and Giardinera, more reminiscent of gardening than anything on four wheels, but then in the 60’s first the A111 and subsequently the A112 were introduced. The latter would be built during 17 years until 1985 in a total of 1.2 million cars, making it by far the most successful car in Autobianchi’s history.

With a total length of 323 cm, the A112 was based on a shortened Fiat 128 chassis. Marcello Gandini, the man behind cars such as the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo, was given the task to design the car, but it’s quite obvious that he took less inspiration from what he had done for Lamborghini and more from another car that had already illustrated how successful the small, front-wheel drive concept could be: the Mini. The A112’s original engine was the 0.9 litre four-cylinder from the Fiat 850 initially producing 42 hp, later increased to 48 hp. Already in 1971 however, the Torino-based car engineer Carlo Abarth, founder of the company of the same name, saw the potential in the small and light A112 and came up with a 107 hp prototype. This was considered far too much fun by Fiat, and also too expensive to put into production, and power was therefore reduced to 58 hp in the first Abarth versions, and then from 1975 increased to 70 hp. This was notably achieved thanks to a sports exhaust, bringing the additional benefit of a wonderful sound! Combined with the fact that the A112 Abarth was the first A112 version with a five-speed gearbox, it quickly became a favourite among drivers with ambition, of which according to the buying statistics, as many as 35% were women.

The double pipes ensure a great sound to this day!

That takes us back to my morning discovery as what I had in front of me was indeed a 70 hp Abarth version from the mid-late 70’s. Having studied it a bit I’m pretty certain this was the third series of the car, meaning it was built between 1975-1977. 70 hp isn’t much these days, then again the car only weighs around 700 kg, almost half of a modern, small car. The nice, 70’s bucket seats looked perfect, as did he rest of the interior (sorry for the reflections int he picture). The Abarth drive is said to be sporty with a typical front-wheel understeering tendency, but notably the short wheelbase meant that the A112 could also switch to oversteering, making the whole thing slightly adventurous. In Italy there was a rally class champinoship for the A112 in the late 70’s – early 80’s, and more recently, fans of Gran Turismo will also know that it’s a car featured in the game. Undoubtedly, the fact that the cars were driven quite hard has had quite a severe effect on the numbers that remain today!

Brilliant Abarth steering wheel, wonderful bucket seats, long wooden stickshift – what more do you need!

So what happened to Autobianchi? well, given Fiat also owned Lancia with a similar brand positioning, over time it became increasingly difficult to separate the two brands. The A112 was replaced by the Y10 in 1986, which was to become Autobianchi last model and was actually sold under the Lancia brand in some markets outside of Italy. Fiat officially discontinued Autobianchi in 1995, it has never had a rebirth since, and probably never will. That doesn’t change anything to the fact that the Abarth 70 hp is a really cool small city car of a kind that isn’t built anymore, and that provides lots of fun (including the sound!) until this day. Nice ones are around EUR 10′, perfect ones as the one I saw proabably around EUR 15′. Try to find another modern supercar with bucket seats, plenty of Abarth badges or a 70’s double exhaust pipe for that money!

The Swedish hypercars from Ängelholm!

If, like me, you were born in a country and live in another, you know well of all the things that remind you of your place of birth (or that others will remind you of). If, like me, you were born in Sweden, these include music from Abba to Avicii, herring and crispbread, and of course Zlatan (Ibrahimovic). In car terms it’s always been about Volvo and Saab, even though the former is nowadays Chinese and the latter went bankrupt a couple of times before finally pulling the plug ten years ago. There is, however, one other Swedish car brand from the small town of Ängelholm in southern Sweden that is very far from bankruptcy. Not only that, it was founded less than 30 years ago and has in less than three decades developed into what I consider the world’s leading supercar manufacturer. So, if you ask me what makes me most proud of being Swedish, it would be coming from the country of Koenigsegg – and this week we’ll have a closer look at the Swedish hypercar brand and its founder Christian von Koenigsegg, who knows how to do a lot of things, including dreaming big and building the fastest cars in the world!

The story starts in 1994 when 22-year old Christian has already shown both interest and talent for technical innovations as well as drawing, and has also made some money in his young years. Fascinated by cars since his early childhood, the Stockholm-born Christian from the originally German noble family Königsegg, set up a business in southern Sweden with the modest ambition to build the greatest supercar the world had ever seen, combining Swedish design with state-of-the-art technology. Fast wasn’t enough – his car was to be the fastest in the world. You could basically describe him as the Zlatan of the car world in his ambition, however with a very different attitude and modesty (the latter a word Zlatan can’t spell…). Doing this anywhere in the world with a far more solid background is hard – very hard. Doing it as an inexperienced 22-year old in Sweden should be impossible, but wasn’t, and only two years after Koenigsegg was founded, the company presented their first prototype, the CC. From there on, it took another 3-4 years until Koenigsegg’s first small-series model, the CC8S, was introduced at the Paris auto show. Production then started two years later, in 2002.

The CC8S was highly innovative and clearly illustrated what the company’s ambition was, as it already included some noteworthy innovations, such as the synchro helix door actuation system (the folding-knife doors) and a free-flowing exhaust system, both patented by Christian and part of his more than 10 personal patents. He is in other words not only the founder and CEO of Koenigsegg, but very much its Chief Technology Officer as well! The engine of the CC8S was a heavily modified, 4.8 litre Ford V8 producing 655 hp, enough in 2002 to get it into the Guinness book of records as the world’s strongest engine in serial production. The series was however small as only 6 cars were produced in 2002-2003. Its successor, the CCR, brought some important improvements when it came out in 2004, including an 806 hp and 920 Nm power output. Remember this is 2004, i.e. more than 15 years ago, when such numbers were still truly spectacular. This is also where Koenigsegg’s quest for various speed records start. With a top speed of 388 km/h, the CCR was at the time the world’s fastest car. Unfortunately for Koenigsegg, the record would only stand for a few months before it was beaten by the Bugatti Veyron with 408 km/h…

In 2006 the CCR became the further evolved CCX, a car that was an important milestone for the company. Although still based on the CC8S it was heavily modified and for the first time featured an engine developed in-house and producing 817 hp. Importantly the engine could run on 91 octane fuel and also passed the Californian environmental regulation. The CCX was in other words the first Koenigsegg car to be sold in the US, and the “X” in the name commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the first ever test drive with the CC prototype in 1996. Its environmentally-friendly sister car, the CCXR followed a couple of years later and could be driven on ethanol, bringing the benefit of some more power for those who felt they needed it. On ethanol the CCXR produces 1018 hp and 1060 Nm of torque, cracking the 1000-mark both for hp and Nm for the first time – but not the last.

Fast forward to 2010 and Koenigsegg presents the Agera (“act” in Swedish) that over the coming seven years would be built in various versions with between 910 and 1175 hp. Although based on the CCX, the Agera featured a new body, new interior and a new engine. The car’s monocoque is made of carbon fibre which brings us to a central theme of all Koenigsegg cars, namely keeping the weight under control. Whereas a Bugatti Chiron weighs in at just under two tons, Koenigseggs have so far managed to stay under 1500 kg, bringing lots of benefits but also a much rawer experience than the super fast but also super plush ride of a Chiron. The Agera set one of Koenigsegg’s most notable speed records so far, namely 0-300-0 km/h in 21 seconds, more than 10 seconds less than a Chiron, and in 2017 professional driver Niclas Lilja would set a new top speed record at 447 km/h in the Nevada desert. And then end 2019, the Agera did a 0-400-0 km/h run in 31 seconds. It’s difficult to compare these numbers in a way that really illustrates the size of the achievement, but as some kind of reference, a McLaren 720 does 0-300 km/h in 21 seconds. However, by then the Agera is already back to 0…

The Agera RS in Dubai, one market where it has lots of success…

Koenigsegg has today established itself as one of the leading hypercar constructors in the world, going from a very small operation of about 50 people to today around 300 employees, still based in Ängelholm in Sweden. Demand has never been stronger and Koenigsegg have in total so far built around 250 cars for some 190 clients at prices from USD 1.5m and upwards (with no upper limit…). As you understand from the numbers, some owners have more than one car in their garage. Life isn’t fair…

From the mid-2010’s, Koenigsegg has kept busy. In 2014 it launched the surreal One:1, which at 1360 kg had a power output of 1 hp per kg, and at 1371 Nm, practically the same torque… In 2015, the hybrid Koenigsegg Regera (“reign” in Swedish) was launched with an 1115 hp engine and was built until 2019. In the same year the Agera was replaced by the Jesko, which takes its name from Christian’s father. As per Christian, the Jesko is the fastest car the brand will ever build. With a twin-turbo, 5-litre V8 engine producing 1622 hp (running on ethanol) and a perfect aerodynamic shape, the Jesko in the Absolut version is said to have a top speed of 531 km/h. Finding a place to test that isn’t easy, but Koenigsegg is working on it to reclaim the world’s speed record which in between has been lost to the US small-scale brand SSC.

The most exciting car in today’s line-up is however not the Jesko but rather the Gemera (“give more” in Swedish), the world’s first real four-seater hypercar, including a decent, 200-litre luggage space. Its drivetrain is highly impressive: a two-litre, three-cylinder engine producing 600 hp (!!) is combined to three electrical engines to a total power output of 1700 hp on ethanol. The company targets a production of 125 Jeskos and 300 Gemeras, which given current demand they will most certainly reach, but take a number of years to do so, as the current annual production is around 20-30 cars.

The closest I have been to a Koenigsegg was seeing an Agera at the Geneva Motor Show in 2019 and I don’t expect to come closer to one anytime soon. What I find so impressive with the company however, is the philosophy of never resorting to a less than perfect solution. If there is a piece or system available in the market Koenigsegg will be happy to buy it, but if it’s anything less than perfect, they will rather build it themselves. If you can charge your clients the kind of money the company does this is no doubt easier, but it also translates a very high ambition. It’s also truly impressive what Christian has invented and developed through the years. His technical genius combined with a pretty stunning design on most models has made Koenigsegg into a supercar company like no other. Most of us would probably have been equally impressed had the cars had a few hundred hp less, but not Christian: 27 years ago he set out to build the fastest hypercar in the world, and that’s what he’s done over and over again. If Zlatan is the God of football, then Christian is no doubt the God of hypercars!

Maranello’s best daily driver!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Panamera (see here if you missed it), a family hatchback that translates the true Porsche feel as much as its format and weight allows for, and the first generation of which currently offers pretty exceptional value for money. But whereas to my mind, the Panamera is the daily driver that presents the best “price-adjusted” offer in the EUR 40-50.000 price segment, it’s not the only car out there providing a nice bridge between a word leading sports car tradition and something that actually qualifiees as (almost) reasonable with daily driving potential. This week we’ll therefore travel south from Zuffenhausen, over the Alps to Maranello, to explore Ferrari’s best offer in this regard: the splendid, 12-cylinder Ferrari FF. Just like the Panamera, in addition to all its practical benefits (and there are a lot!), it remains one hell of a car that right now offers exceptionally good value for money – albeit in a higher segment.

Looks that have aged very well!

The FF (Ferrari Four) was presented in 2011 and built until 2016 as successor to the 612 Scaglietti, and as could be expected, it split opinions among Ferraristis right from the start. Obviously this wasn’t the first four-seater from Ferrari, but “Four” in the name also referred to this being the first four-wheel drive Ferrari in history. The system was developed by Ferrari and doesn’t weigh more than 45 kg. Without becoming too technical, a second, two-gear gearbox right over the front axle complements the main, 7-gear dual clutch box and transfers power to the front axle over two multi-plate clutches. The low weight comes at the expense of function as the system only works in gears 1-4, which doesn’t change that it’s perfectly useful for example on snow. On solid ground and in all gears, the car is otherwise rear-wheel drive, and the 45 kg are a reasonable price to pay for the increased function, although the true purists will remark that the driving experience becomes less playful than with a rear-wheel drive, “classic” Ferrari. All others will find it a true sports car to drive, also with an almost perfect 53-47% weight split (rear-front). The FF also has an adaptive suspension with five driving programs, controlled by the “manettino” on the steering wheel, and the car can and will be raised a few cm as required.

Not where you would take your 458!

The other area of contention ten years ago was the looks. 2011 was still a few years before shooting breaks became as popular as they are today, so for most, those concerns are largely gone by now. Looking at the FF today I think it’s aged extremely well. Given we started this with a comparison with the Panamera, there’s no real contention on which one looks the best… Pininfarina has done an excellent job in a classic combination of a long front and a short, dynamic rear gives the car perfect dimensions.

All this is of course fine and good, but the most exciting part of the FF is no doubt what you find under the hood, namely a 6.3 litre, naturally aspirated V12, derived from the Enzo and the biggest V12 Ferrari had ever put into production at the time. Producing 660 hp and 683 Nm torque, those who don’t get goose bumps when it comes alive are either deaf or completely heartless. Ferrari will tell you that the incredible sound is helped by the 65-degree angle, i.e. 5 degrees more “open” than a typical V12 engine is built in. I find it hard to believe that it would have sounded much less with less of an angle though… Once alive, the incredible engine will take the FF all the way to 335 km/h, of which the first 100 km/h only need 3.7 seconds.

The wonderful engine behind the front axle, with the second gearbox in front

If this doesn’t sound like an (almost) reasonable daily driver so far, let’s look at the practical side of the FF. Firstly, it’s a true four-seater rather than a 2+2, and the rear seats are really quite comfy, even for grown-ups. Secondly they as well as the central part can be individually folded, the central part for example to transport skis. Thirdly, with all seats in place the FF offers 450 litres of luggage space, which increases to over 800 litres once the seats are folded. What Ferrari will not offer, but offer you to buy, is of course a very chic luggage set to help you make the most of that space to arrive in style! And finally the FF has a 91-litre tank, meaning you can do at least 500 km before you have to stretch your legs and admire it from the outside, which certainly won’t hurt. The quality of a daily-driver however also lies in its quality and reliability, and it’s here that the FF impresses even more. The interior looks fantastic and is well built – clearly a level above the previous generation. Guarantee and service packages when the car was new were extensive in most markets, and the quality is also proven by how unlike many other Ferraris, most FF’s have a lot of km on the clock and it’s rare to find a car that has barely been driven.

The FF offered owners a lot of options for individualization and it’s not rare to find cars that cost EUR 350.000 or more as new. This can obviously be interesting when you look to pick one up today, and if you plan on buying one and will be more than two persons using it, I would be on the lookout for the panoramic glass roof which makes the rear much lighter. Quite obviously though, the most important by far is making sure the car has been properly serviced and that both the engine and the electronics are in order. Ideally, one owner will have used the car in a way where it wasn’t his city driver and where he didn’t require assistance of the four-wheel drive system too often. If you can find that, then it’s less important if the car has 20.000 or 50.000 km on the clock. And if you know your Ferraris, there’s nothing hindering you from considering cars with even higher mileage. Those will start at EUR 90-100.000, those with less km start coming in at EUR 120-130.000, and there’s quite a few cars in the market, so realistically some negotiating potential as well. That price fall is not unique compared to other Ferrari models but at one third of the price as new, to me the FF is the one that offers the best combination of many qualities, making it an (almost) reasonable purchase, and one that will make you smile every time you turn the key!

Dieppe – France’s own Maranello

Renault is not a brand that is featured very often on this blog given, if you allow me to be a bit harsh, it mostly consists of a bunch of boring small cars and family SUV’s, that partly have some, hmm, intersting looks (Avantime anyone?) but are never associated with any kind of thrill of driving. Yeah, I know there’s a few racier versions of the Mégane that some love, but that’s never really been my thing. What is very much my thing on the other hand, is what a crazy bunch of engineers in the French town of Dieppe, traditionally the home of Alpine, developed in the late 70’s: the Renault 5 Turbo / Turbo II. And then 20 years later, also in Dieppe, a similar (same?) group of engineers reinvented the whole concept with the Renault Clio V6. This week will therefore be the story of the two siblings with twenty years between them, but sharing the same crazy concept and making them two of the if not greatest, then at least most exciting hot hatches ever!

Turning the clock back to the late 70’s, Renault had quite a strong rally tradition and had been racing the Alpine A110 for a number of years. The car was getting old though and a replacement was needed. As always the budget was a bit tight so the project started internally using the Renault 5 as basis. The R5 had been around since 1971 so it wasn’t the most inspiring starting point, but that’s before the guys in Dieppe came into the picture and did a few rather major modifications… In becoming the R5 Turbo, the R5 not only gained 20 cm in width, the engine also moved from up front to behind the front seats, i.e. mid-mounted, and the car went from front- to rear-wheel drive. The result was a body that all of a sudden looked spectacular (and still does!), an interior that was more or less untouched and thereby an ocean of 70’s plastic, and a weight distribution that changed quite radically, with around 60% over the rear axle (counting with the driver).

As a rally car the R5 Turbo and subsequent Turbo II (built from 1983, looking the same but technically improved) saw some success. It raced in the legendary Group B until the end in 1986 and won a total of three races which could probably have been more, had it not been for the fierce competition from notably Audi and Lancia at the time. What made the legend of the car was however not its rally pedigree but rather the total of around 5.000 homologation cars, split roughly as 1/3 Turbo and 2/3 Turbo II. Back in the early 80’s, at least in France this was the really cool car to have (which was good since price-wise it was on par with true sports cars!), but it was also one that required some basic driving skills, as you’ll guess from a combination of a short wheelbase, a mid-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive! The pengine’s position helped contribute to what was a great engine tone, making the 1.4 litre, turbo-charged 4-cylinder sound like far more than it was. 160 hp was not a huge power output, but with the setup as described and an 80’s ketchup turbo lag, more power was not really necessary.

No other Renault 5 has a natural place in the port of Monaco!

After the R5, Renault went back to its slumber and the Dieppe engineers went for a well-deserved break that lasted for around 15 years. This takes us to the late 90’s when Renault presented a study based on the Clio with a mid-mounted, V6 engine. The interest was so big that Renault decided to produce the car, this time in collaboration with Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). The engineers in Dieppe were back from their break and developed what was at least in concept a true follower of the R5 Turbo. As the Turbo 20 years earlier, the Clio V6 had a considerably widened body, exactly the same boring interior as the standard Clio, rear-wheel drive and a mid-mounted engine behind the front seats. This time the engine was however a naturally aspirated V6, producing between 226-254 hp. It made the V6 only slightly quicker than the Turbo though, since the Clio also weighed i400 kg more at 1400 kg. A lot of that weight was actually not linked to the Clio being a new car but rather to the heavy modifications from converting the regular Clio to a rear-wheel drive, mid-engined two-seater.

The similarity in concept also means a certain similarity in the driving experience, even if the lack of a giant turbo gap given the Clio V6 is naturally aspirated makes it, shall we say not quite as full of surprises… What remains is however the rear-heavy weight distribution combined with a short wheelbase, so being slightly careful cerrtainly doesn’t hurt. Again, both the looks and the sound are (almost) as good as the old R5 Turbo and no doubt the Clio V6 will age as well.

Under the official, very selling name Renault Clio V6 Renault Sports, the V6 was built in two versions called phases, the first between 2001-2003 and the second until the end of production in 2005. It was thus built roughly as long as the R5 Turbo, but with only around half as many produced. That doesn’t show price-wise yet with a good Clio V6 coming in at around EUR 40-50.000 whilst the R5 Turbo / Turbo II is at least twice as much. There is no objective measure in this world that makes it rational to buy either one of them, but then again rational is boring and if that’s your philosophy, these cars are both a lot of fun and not seen on every corner.

Had they spent 1/10 of what they spent on the exterior on the interior…

The new Alpine A110 is being built in Dieppe since 2017, a car that I covered last summer in a post you can read here. We’ll come back to the upcoming F1 season in the coming weeks but it’s no secret that Renault’s F1 team has been renamed Alpine from this season, so there’s no doubt Dieppe is going strong with hopefully some other great cars coming out over the coming years!

Street finds: the great Bizzarrini!

A great thing with writing this blog is that whereas in some weeks I know well in advance what to write about, in others I don’t have a clue. This is a bit of a thrill since inspiration (at least so far) then comes somehow, but very rarely does it do so in such an inspired way as this week! Taking a lunch walk on Tuesday in the currently locked-down and therefore half empty city of Zurich, I turned a corner and saw something low and red that looked very much like a 60’s Ferrari but was… something else. A model name I didn’t recognize, and a logo that said Bizzarrini. I know we have some really knowledgeable readers here and as those of you familiar with Bizzarrini will know, seeing one doesn’t happen every day; nor every week, month or year! I had never seen a Bizzarrini before which is perhaps not very surprising, given the whole production of Bizzarrini automobiles in the 60’s amounted to a few dozen cars (more on that below). The 5300 GT I had in front of me looked spectacular, and when doing some research around Giotto Bizzarrini and his brand, a wonderful story of great engineering in a bygone era combined with the temper of several protagonists, including a certain Enzo Ferrari emerged. So this week will be about Giotto Bizzarrini and his cars, from the age when cars were sketched with a ruler and built with sweat rather than computers!

What I couldn’t identify straight away – a Bizzarrini GT 5300 Strada!

Giotto Bizzarrini was born in 1926 close to the port city of Livorno near Pisa in Italy, and as a young engineer started working for Alfa Romeo where he quickly made a name for himself as a very promising and talented engineer with a special love for racing cars. He was in fact so promising that the great Enzo Ferrari became aware of him and quickly recruited him, so from 1958, Giotto worked at Ferrari where he led the development of several Ferrari GT cars, notably the legendary 250 GTO. No doubt that Giotto had his career cut out for him at Ferrari had it not been for Enzo’s strong personality, Latin temper – and love for his wife Laura. Laura was not as loved by other key Ferrari employees, especially on the sales side where Ferrari’s sales manager Girolamo Gardini was getting very tired of Laura messing up his sales plans by always requesting special deliveries of race cars for personal contacts and friends. Betting on his long and successful background at the firm, Gandini together with a group of other senior executives, including Bizzarrini, one day walked into Enzo’s office and basically told him “it’s her or us”, confident Enzo would see the logic. He didn’t. Laura stayed and Enzo fired the senior executives (consisting of most of the race team at Ferrari) in what was referred to as the Palace Revolt or the Great Walkout. You’d better know what you’re doing before you mess with the boss’s wife, especially if that boss is (or rather was) Enzo Ferrari!

The Ferrari 250 GTO – 36 built, all of them still in existance, changing hands at USD 50-75m…

Giotto Bizzarrini was especially passionate about engines and before the Palace Coup had started a department within Ferrari where engines were tested and notably the Testa Rossa 3-litre engine was developed. When he left Ferrari, Giotto went on to found a company named ATS with the ambition to build a Formula 1 car (which he never did), before founding his next company called Società Autostar as a freelance design house (chassis and engines) in Livorno. One of his first clients was a a certain Ferruccio Lamborghini who was set on building a V12 engine and much like Bizzarrini, wasn’t best friends with Enzo. Bizzarrini took on the project and thus built Lamborghini’s first V12, with an architecture that was far ahead of what Ferrari was producing at the time and so powerful it had to be tuned down from its original 375 hp for street usage. This is in other words how Lamborghini’s first V12 came about, and you have to believe Giotto wasn’t too displeased to indirectly get back at Enzo…

The first Lambo V12 – Bizzarrini to the far left

Autostar under Bizzarrini also worked on a number of other cars, notably for Iso, another small Italian automaker from the 60’s, including the Iso Rivolta and Grifo, especially the race version of the Grifo called A3/C. For these, as well as for the later cars in the Bizzarrini name, he would however not be using that Lambo V12 but rather the small block Chevy V8 from the Corvette. Throughout his career he had developed a love for the larger volume, US engines, and even tried (unsuccessfully) to convince Ferrari to build a larger volume engine. A year later Giotto ended the collaboration with Iso, took the A3/C with him and fulfilled his dream by starting Automobili Bizzarrini Spa, where the A3/C was to become the first Bizzarrini car under the name GT 5300.

The GT 5300 was produced both in a Corsa (race) and a Strada (street) version, with a power output from the Chevy small block of between 350-400 hp. The car was front-mid-engined with the engine sitting behing the front axle, probably sharing quite a lot of heat with the passengers but above all, producing a sound out of this world… The body was a combination of aluminium and fibre glass, the rear axle was independent and brakes were inboard i.e. mounted on the axles such as to remove weight from the wheels, as notably on the Citroën SM. The box was a Chevy four-speed manual. Giotto raced the Corsa version himself notably in Le Mans, and it’s hard to believe today when you learn that doing so, he drove the car himself from Livorno to Le Mans, won his class and then drove back home!

The rear is the part most will have seen of the 5300 GT, and it’s a good-looking one!

Unfortunately, although there’s no doubt about his capabilities as an engineer, car designer or for that matter driver, Giotto Bizzarrini wasn’t very talented as a businessman. The race career never really took off, notably since Giotto didn’t have enough money to homologate the GT 5300 Corsa. Even worse, the whole company was permanently under-capitalized, the GT 5300 never became a success, and after the bankruptcy filing of the company in 1969, Giotto even admitted that he had not keep track of how many cars had been built. This is still a debated topic today. It’s clear that the GT 5300 Strada was the most popular car with presumably 50-75 cars produced. The Corsa version is estimated to have been built no more than 10 times, thus making it three times rarer than a GTO, and the following and last race car, the P 538, was only built a few times. So the total production of Bizzarrini during five years was probably no more than 100 cars. Those still in existance mostly sit in car museums (if you happen to be in LA, the Peterson Automobile Museum is said to have one) or personal collections, so I was indeed a lucky guy to see one parked in the street with the window half-opened!

I’m not a 100% sure but as late as last November Giotto was still alive, so chances are he still is, in that case 95 years old and most probably quite surprised to see the prices his cars fetch on the few occasions they change owners. A Bizzarrini would have been a great investment around 20 years ago when they traded for somewhere around USD 100.000, today you need to add a zero to that. But that’s of course not what makes the story special. Rather, it’s the story of a man who today counts as one of the gratest racing engineers ever, not only in Italy but globally, who developed Lamborghini’s first ever V12 and,who could probably have helped Ferrari became even more successful as a racing team, had Enzo had his wife and temper under control!

The bargain family 911!

If you’re part of the crowd for which Porsche is equal to a 911 and you’ve looked at the 911 market lately (or for that matter at any point during the last 10 years), you’d be forgiven for thinking that unless a 911 is already safely stored in your garage, the train has left the station. But while that is indeed true in the case of classical 911’s up until the 996, it’s slightly less true for later 911’s and very much less true for the other models in the Porsche line-up, which today make up 85% of the company’s production. Today we’ll talk about one of those models, one that doesn’t receive much attention, that was always slightly controversial in terms of its looks, but also one that in its first iteration offers an unbelievable value for money whilst being capable of transporting four adults and their luggage in a way that no other family sedan can. You guessed it – this week is about the Porsche Panamera.

Definitely a Porsche – but good-looking?

Porsche’s decision to start producing other models than the 911 had been taken many years before the Panamera, notably through the Cayenne in 2002. Wendelin Wiedeking, Porsche’s visionary CEO at the time and until 2009, had recognized that many 911 owners also had an SUV in their garage and wanted to have a share of that market, something he definitely succeeded in given the Cayenne today makes up alomost 1/3 of Porsche’s production. But then again everyone doesn’t want an SUV and Wiedeking also saw room in the market for a sports sedan-coupé, whatever you want to call it, the development of which ran during the 2000’s with the Panamera finally being launched in 2009. Importantly Wiedeking was not only visionary but also tall, and this is where the most criticized aspect of the Panamera – its roofline – comes into play.

It is said that at the beginning of the Panamera project, Wiedeking set as a condition for the car that he, and thereby well-grown adults, should be able to sit comfortably in the backseats (which in the first generation of the car were two separate seats, whereas later versions had the option of a 3-passenger rear bench). This forced the designers to raise the roofline which is what gives the Panamera its strange profile and earned it the nickname “buckle whale” in the home market Germany. Add to that the headlights resembling the Cayenne and some slightly strange-looking backlights, and you get a car that in the eyes of most is not beautiful, but luckily has a large number of other qualities that you experience once inside – which is where you spend your time anyway.

It’s clear to see where rear passengers have their heads!

It’s absolutely true that four adults travel in comfort in a Panamera, even when back passengers are over 180 cm. Contrary to many other coupé-GT’s the Panamera is a hatchback offering around 450 litres of luggage space, in addition to which the back seats can be folded. This is in other words a car that is fully capable of transporting not only people, but also their luggage. And if the exterior is controversial there is not much to say about the interior that is very nicely appointed and offers a true sports car feeling. Actually a 911 feeling, until you look over your shoulder and see the backseats. As so often a dark interior is to be preferred as it usually stands the test of time better – and make the few pieces of plastic that don’t have the real qualitiative look shine less.

“Pre-touchscreen” cars had a lot of buttons, but none more so than the Panamera’s center console!

The best part is of course the drive, which can be described as all the 911 feeling you can possibly get in a family car format. Going back to the Cayenne, it was at the launch said to convey the same 911 feeling in an SUV format, something all of us who have driven one know is not the case, as it can never be in a car riding as high as an SUV does. The Panamera is also a big car (almost five meters long and two meters wide) but it obviously rides much lower. At just under two tons it’s however no light-weight, making the driving experience even more impressive. Again, you won’t find a “family-compatible” car at an even remotedly similar price point (more on that below) that is more fun, precise and enjoyable. Two features that are important in that regard is opting for a car with PDK and if possible also air suspension which clearly enhances the ride quality.

The first generation Panamera was offered as two- or four-wheel drive with six- and eight-cylinder petrol engines and a six-cylinder diesel. There was also a six-cylinder hybrid but we’ll pass on that and the diesel here, as there is no doubt that the eight-cylinder is the engine that was intended for the car – just looking under the hood of a six-cylinder shows you that, as half the space is empty. Also, the only engine that has given rise to mechanical issues through the years is the 300 hp, petrol six-cylinder, so steer clear of it. The 400 hp Panamera S and 4S where offered along with the 500 hp double turbo Panamera Turbo from the start in 2009, and were complemented with the (naturally aspirated), 430 hp GTS and 550 hp Turbo S in 2011. Except for the “basic” 8-cylinder Panamera S, all other versions are four-wheel drive as standard and all except the S also come with a 7-speed PDK. I would go for one of those and basically let you be the judge of how much power you need. The GTS is in my view especially interesting, being a bit more unusual and the strongest of the naturally aspirated V8’s.

Replace these bags with more car-appropriate luggage and you’ll fit even more stuff!

The reason you can be the judge of how much power you need is also that in the second-hand market, where plenty of Panameras are to be found, it doesn’t really make a difference. A budget of EUR 30.-40.000 will get you plenty of great candidates of all configurations, and neither the type of engine nor the equipment level make them differ significantly in price. You don’t even need to go back to the first model year as that budget will also be sufficient for the 2011 GTS and Turbo S with around 100.000 km on the clock. There is for example currently a fully-loaded, 100.000 km Turbo S in Switzerland in fantastic condition, that cost CHF 290.000 as new, for sale for CHF 37.000… 100.000 km is of course no issue for a Porsche V8, as long as the car has been taken care of, preferrably has had one owner and comes with a complete service history. When it comes to options, the more is generally the better but you should probably steer clear of the ceramic brakes that are supposed to hold a lifetime, but often need to be replaced already around 100.000 km or so – at a cost of half the budget given above.

So there we go – a slightly strange-, but also expensive-looking four-seater Porsche, four-wheel drive with ample luggage space that is a true joy to drive, for the same money as a diesel Passat. Come to think of it, it’s also far more enjoyable and much cheaper than a family XC90… Unfortunately the Panamera can do many things really well, but fitting a dog cage isn’t one of them, so I’ll have to pass on this one. If it wasn’t for the dog (stop looking at me like that!), a 2011-2012, well-equipped GTS with standard brakes sounds pretty unbeatable in terms of value for money!

The most exciting Citroën ever!

What do Leonid Brezhnev (ex Soviet leader), Idi Amin (ex Ugandan dictator) and Adam Clayton (present U2 member) have in common? Well, hopefully not more than the fact that they were all proud owners of one of the most legendary cars of all times and the subject of this week’s post – the wonderful Citroën SM! Actually so did further, less democratic guys like Haile Selassie and the shah of Iran, but let’s please not consider this wonderful automobile creation as a transport for dictators – it was more a testament to the position of the SM as one of the most spectacular cars in the world at the time of launch, and therefore something political leaders of different kinds (and also including some more democratic ones like the French president) were keen to be seen in.

I’ve wanted to write about the SM for a long time as to me, no other car symbolizes the true innovation and great engineering from the mechanical age. Long before computers, the SM had some features that it’s taken the automobile world 40 years to catch up with, as we’ll see below. And it was all packed in a format that in my opinion has stood the test of time better than most. And…. Hold it. Before I get too carried away, let’s take it from the beginning, which in the case of the SM means going back to the early 60’s.

Some of you may remember my post on the Goddess, the Citroën DS last summer, that you can otherwise read here. The DS had been launched in 1955, and ever since, Citroën had wanted to add a more luxurious but beyond that, initially quite undefined luxury car to its line-up. This project went under the name S and was officially started in the early 60’s. When Citroën aquired Maserati in -68, the plans to build a GT had taken shape, and the SM was launched in 1970 with an engine provided by the new Italian colleagues. Or rather, an engine newly developed by them, since there was not enough room for the Maserati V8 of the time under the bonnet of the SM, and so it had to be shortened to a V6 with an unusual 90 degree angle. The volume was limited to 2.7 litres, a tribute to France’s fiscal system that ever since WW2 has been very mean to large engine volumes. And so, the Citroën SM also became known as the Maserati Citroën, and was the only Citroën ever to use a Maserati engine.

V6 far back behind the gearbox and suspension clocks

The DS had a futuristic form when it was launched back in 1955, and the SM was no less remarkable in that regard. The body has the shape of a droplet with a wider front than rear axle, as was also the case in the DS. The sleak body with the typical back wheel covers and the abrupt rear all helped achieve a wind resistance CV-value of 0.26, basically unheard of at the time. In its low position (more on the suspension below) the car looks very futuristic still to this day, and it should be noted that in spite of the shape, the SM offers sufficient room for 4, including a boot of a reasonable size. It was only sold in one version that equipment-wise was very complete, and the SM was in other words a true GT.

So what about all the innovations? Well, to start off, the SM obviously retained the hydraulic, self-leveling suspension system from the DS. I covered it in the post last summer I won’t do so again, but given it can be adjusted in height, the SM can go from very low to indeed very high by using a mechanical lever on the left side of the driver’s seat. The high position could for example be used on uneven roads or in snow, the lowest corresponds to its “resting” position. But there is a lot beyond the suspension to be mentioned. This includes the turning headlights that saw into corners, and that were also featured on late DS’s. There are the rain-sensitive windshield wipers, a first that it took decades for other car brands to replicate, the inboard front disc breaks, reducing the unsprung weight of the wheels and thereby improving ride quality, and of course the steering called DIRAVI, providing much assistance at low speeds and progressively less as the speed increases, again a first at the time. The DIRAVI steering in the SM had only 2 turns from lock to lock and a very strong centering back. In combination with the mushroom brake, another feature taken from the DS, the steering makes anyone driving an SM for the first time look like a beginner. Just as you will always apply too much breaking pressure, you will also steer far too much. The SM is a car that you have to learn, but when you do, boy does it allow you to travel in utter comfort and style!

The rear is the least beautiful part, but the shape helped the CV value

Unfortunately the Maserati wasn’t very spectacular but it sure sounded better and was more powerful than the 4-cylinder Citroën had used in the DS. With a power output of 174 hp it put the SM in the middle of the GT pack at the time in terms of performance, with a time of something like 8.5 seconds to 100 but given the aerodynamic shape, a top speed around 220 km/h, making it the fastest front-wheel drive car in the world in 1970. The shape also saves fuel as an SM will roll better than most modern cars without loosing much speed. Given it’s a 50-year old construction, that in itself is quite remarkable!

Citroën thus built a Maserati-powered car that was unlike anything the world had seen, and unlike anything it had driven as well. The car is far sportier than the DS with the exhaust providing a relatively raw exhaust note. Ride comfort is exquisite and superior to the DS, and once you get used to the steering and breaking, the SM is a cruiser by excellence. it’s actually capable of much more than that, as proven by some rally wins in the early 70’s. The standard power output didn’t make it a sports car however, and today few would think of doing more than cruising, something it excels in.

Ferari-like gear shift, radio between the seats, as it was later on the CX

Unfortunately, after a 5-year run and 12.900 cars produced, the SM story came to an end due to a number of factors. For one, Citroën had gone bankrupt in 1974 and been taken over by Peugeot who were far less keen on the SM and also on Maserati, that they sold a few years later. Secondly, the SM had always been destined for the US but ran into various issues in the US market, notably the fact that headlights at the time had to be fixed in the US, so the turning headlights had to be replaced by some of the ugliest fixed lights the world has ever seen. Thirdly, Citroën messed up a bit in terms of after-service both in the US and elsewhere. They didn’t give the US market the attention it deserved and they didn’t make buyers aware of some quite critical timing chain adjustments. This latter point was also a more general problem with the Maserati engine, which Citroën garages often didn’t know how to handle, meaning owners basically had to visit two different garages to service the car. Not a recipe for success and after five years, production of the SM came to an end.

Like so many other youngtimers, finding a good SM today has become an expensive story that starts somewhere around EUR 50.000. As said there is only one version and most cars are also manual, as they should be. Injection models made up some 3500 of the total production are to be preferred, all else equal. Otherwise your attention should go to a thorough check of the body where rust can hide in many places, and a likewise very thorough check of the engine. The timing belt issue can be fixed and has been so on many cars, make sure to choose one of these. Obviously check the suspension as well and how it has been maintained, but of the three areas mentioned, that’s by far the least worrisome one.

I don’t fall in love with all cars I write about, but I find the SM very, very hard to resist. No doubt there are many astounding innovations on our modern cars, but there is something truly special with the revolutionary stuff that was developed by engineers with the help of nothing but brains and tools. No other car pays tribute to the mechanical age better than the SM with its unique shape, its many ground-breaking innovations and of course, the lovely sound of the Maserati engine. A few weeks ago when writing about the DeLorean, I got some criticism for referring to it as legendary. Point taken in that regard, but I’ll dare use the word again when speaking of the SM – I really struggle to imagine a more legendary car!

Ford GT – more than just cubic inches!

“There’s no substitue for cubic inches” is an old car saying obviously originating in the US, where the preference has always been (and still is, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent) for large engine volumes and more cylinders. As we today round up what has a bit unplanned become a number of posts on US cars lately (you may have seen the previous recent posts on the ultra rare Studebaker Avanti and the film-star DeLorean), we’ll take a closer look at what is to my mind the only real modern US supercar, and one that delivers far more than only cubic inches: the truly great Ford GT.

A very well-proportioned, an at 111 cm, low supercar!

Obviously there’s not one but rather three generations of Ford GT’s: the original car from the 60’s called Ford GT40, shown in the banner of this post, (40 being the height of the car in inches, corresponding to 102 cm), of which only 134 were produced between 1964 and 1968. 40 years later, Ford gave itself a 100-year birthday present in the form of the Ford GT (no numbers in the name but the new car was 44 inches high, i.e. 9 cm taller than the 60’s car) that we’ll look closer at today. Ford’s 100-year anniversary corresponded more or less to the 40-year anniversary of the original GT40 and to the first year of production of the GT, 2004 (Ford was in fact created in 1903).

Finally, in 2017 Ford brought out the new GT. Still in production, this was obviously a new car but one that looked pretty much like the old, and with as most visible difference to the -04 version a more modern double-turbo six-cylinder replacing the supercharged V8. The new GT was also developed as a track car, which its predecessor isn’t. Oh, and then there’s the small detail around the price, with the new GT having a price tag of around a million as new, and anything in the secondary market not coming much cheaper. That makes the previous version a bit of a bargain, and as discussed below, at least from some angles a better option!

A truly purposeful rear!

When the GT came out in 2004 it was conceptually a very traditional and rather analogue supercar developed for the road. The big engine was a 5.4l V8 with a supercharger, mid-mounted and producing 558 hp (thanks to an easy ECU-modification, many cars put out 600-700 hp…). The car is of course rear-wheel drive with a six-speed manual transmission. So far so good. But the real analogue nature of the car becomes clear when you learn that the GT has no technical driving aides – at all! This is of course unthinkable in a modern supercar and means it’s really up to you and the big V8 in the back – as it should be.

The development of the GT was led by Ford’s long time CTO and head of product development, Richard Parry Jones. He’s notably well-known for suggesting that building a supercar is easy compared to building an excellent car for the masses, and given how great the GT is and how not-very-great for example the Mondeo is, another car Parry Jones led the development of, he seems to be on to something. Then again it would also seem he’s more apt at the former task than the latter. Coming back to the car, Parry Jones and Ford gave it a great chassis, a fantastic balance, good breaks, a great stickshift with a clutch as easy as in a Fiesta, and also a precise and well-balanced steering. This was all very surprising given, well, that it’s a Ford, but it all contributed to a great total package, obviously with the supercharged 8-cylinder as the cherry on the cake. Again the car does without any traction control and those not careful enough will quickly need a couple of new rear wheels as the car willingly spins them in 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear, given the massive torque of 774 Nm!

Rev counter nicely in the middle, stickshift tilted towards the driver.

Approaching a GT means approaching a truly great-looking supercar. The influences from the 60’s original are clear but in my humble opinion, Ford hasn’t fallen in the retro-trap but rather created a car that just looks good. It does so on the inside as well, although here the heritage from the wider Ford family shines through in some switches and instruments. Then again some controls are proper to the GT, so overall it’s an ok interior. The two coolest features are the rev counter, that sits right in front of you in the middle of the gauge cluster, vs the speedometer that sits halfway to the passenger, and secondly the fact that the stick shift is tilted towards you. There are however drawbacks as well, and not just the Ford family switches: firstly the doors include a large part of the roof (the price to pay when you build a car that’s only 111 cm tall…), meaning you need to watch your head carefully and basically open them fully to enter, which isn’t really great in tight parking garages. The second, even more serious drawback is that the car has no room for luggage, neither up front where insted of a trunk the various fluids etc. are located, nor in the cabin itself, meaning you can’t take what is arguably one of the greatest drives out there for a weekend trip, unless you buy what you need when you get to your destination. Then again, if you can afford the car, maybe that’s what you do…

A lesser opening angle means hitting your head in the “roof door”…

When the GT came out in -04, its competitors were the usual suspects from Modena (360 and 430), Sant’ Agata (Gallardo) and Zuffenhausen (given the power, the 911 Turbo and conceptually, even the Carrera GT). Nobody would buy a Ford for the badge in this company, especially since it’s today the most expensive of the bunch (except for the Carrera GT), but you may well do so for the quality of the car, assuming you don’t need luggage. There is also advantages associated with the Ford badge, such as the car being far more solid and less of a primadonna than some of the named competitors. Again, it’s a Ford, and although it will cost more than a Fiesta to service, you’ll be quite far away from other supercars in terms of maintenance. And to me, it’s by far the best looking of the bunch!

When the GT was new it cost between USD 150.000-200.000 depending on market. Today you can expect to pay at least 50-100% more, and actually the GT never lost value, always trading at or above the initial selling price. Around 4.000 were built between 2004-2006, showing that a small number of a great car is a good way to keep values strong. A couple of special edition cars have gone through the roof in terms of pricing, but EUR 250.000-300.000 buys you a truly great, real American supercar!

DeLorean – back to the past

If you’re a petrol head born sometime between the mid-60’s and the mid-70’s, there’s probably few cars that you were more excited about in your youth than the famous DeLorean. Thinking of it, you probably didn’t even need to be a petrol head to find the car exciting. The looks, the gullwing doors, the unpainted, stainless steel body, the story around John DeLorean himself and of course, the car’s appearance in the “Back to the future”-movies have all contributed to this being one of the most famous cars from the 80’s.

In 1981 this was really back to the future!

Somewhat surprisingly we’ve never written about the DeLorean on the blog and it definitely feels like it’s time to change that, also as I met a very nice DeLorean owner with his car not too long ago. This week’s post will therefore be on the car with almost a decade-long delivery time but that was only in production for 18 months, that at the launch was hopelessly overpriced and under-powered, and likewise the car whose creator was charged in a major drug smuggling case!

The car commonly referred to as the “DeLorean” was the only car ever built by the DMC, the DeLorean Motor Corporation, founded by John DeLorean in 1973. DeLorean had previously made a name for himself at General Motors in the muscle car era as lead engineer and vice president at Pontiac and later at Chevrolet. After many years at GM he got bored with what he perceived like a lack of innovation. He decided to leave, set up his own company and launch what he called an ethical sports car with notably more focus on safety than was the standard at the time.

The DeLorean was designed by Giugiaro, however based on an existing proposal Giugiaro had submitted to Porsche as an idea for the coming Porsche 928, but that Porsche had turned down. By 1975 the design was completed and apart from (very) minor tweaks remained unchanged until the car was finally launched in 1981. The initial plan was to use a 6-cylinder engine from Ford. That was then dropped for the four-cylinder engine from the Citroen CX (yep, really!), but in the end even DeLorean he had to realize that the power at just over 100 hp in the US due to stricter emission regulations was not enough. Finally it was decided to use the so called PRV 6-cylinder engine from notably the Renault 30 and the Volvo 760. In “US mode” the engine put out around 130 hp, better than 100 but still far less than somewhat comparable competitors.

The long development time was also caused by DeLorean realizing that his thinking around safety features wasn’t viable in the end and that some features such as a full-width knee bar in the interior had to be rethought. He therefore took in Colin Chapman from Lotus quite late in the process, who looked at the prototype and saw a need for re-working large parts of the car. When it was finally launched in 1980, the DeLorean was built on the Lotus steel chassis from the Esprit and had the engine not in the middle but in the rear, as the 911 (but unfortunately without the power of the latter). During the car’s development, the intention had been for it to be named the DMC-12, where 12 would refer to USD 12.000 as its sticker price. By the time deliveries started that price tag had more than doubled and the name was thus dropped for the more neutral DeLorean.

All cars were unpainted at delivery, so any other colour is an after-job

Around 9.000 DeLoreans were built in total in 1981-1982 in a factory in northern Ireland before being shipped to the US. The factory was financed by UK taxpayer money as a way to bring jobs to the region but didn’t last long as DeLorean filed for receivership at the end of 1982. As illustrated by the selling price, the long development time had caused costs to spiral out of control and although the car was well received for its futuristic looks, many prospective buyers were disappointed by the lack of innovation on the inside and again, the lack of power. To be fair though, had DeLorean gone on a bit longer such as to start selling cars in Europe, the power output would have been significantly higher at around 160 hp, thanks to more generous regulations, which would have been more in line with comparable cars at the time. There were also thoughts around a double-turbo version with over 250 hp, but that was never to be.

Interior was available in grey or black and wasn’t bad, but quite conventional

Back then to my newfound friend a few weeks ago who graciously showed me his DeLorean. It is indeed a spectacular car with notably the steel body panels looking really timeless and very cool, as do of course the doors. Who knows, if the first “Back to the future” had come out in 1981 rather than 1985, perhaps that would have given DeLorean enough of a boost to go on a bit longer? The car’s interior is far less innovative with a very 80’s feel to it. Here DeLorean had wanted a more futuristic thinking with digital displays and gauges, but again delays and costs forced him to adopt a more conventional look. The owner told me that driving-wise the car is much more of a cruiser than a sports car. He says he was happy to have a manual box rather than the slow automatic, but also that the PRV isn’t the sportiest of engines. He also mentioned what all DeLorean owners can probably testify to, which is that half the pleasure from driving the car comes from all the happy smiles, thumbs up and photographies from bystanders and other drivers.

Not a car for those not comfortable with being in the limelight!

Next to the lack of power DeLorean was also criticized for bad build quality, especially in the interior. This was probably true but then again I can’t really think of an 80’s car with an interior that has stood the test of time. The truth is that interiors were pretty bad over the board at the time and seen from that angle, the DeLorean at least doesn’t look worse than the rest. The owner hadn’t had any major issues but admitted that small things do break, a lot of them electrical. From that perspective it was probably a good thing that DeLorean didn’t have enough money for his more futuristic ideas… What is very good however, is that the car enjoys a very strong following and very active owner clubs in varous countries. It is believed that more than 6.000 of the 9.000 DeLoreans produced are still on the road today which is a truly impressive number, testifying both to a quality that can’t be that bad, and also a well functioning parts supply through the owners’ network.

So what about the drug dealing charges? Well, it’s kind of a strange story, but in 1982 DeLorean was arrested and charged with cocaine smuggling. He fought the case several years in courts and was finally acquitted of all charges, and it appears the whole thing had been an FBI setup, the purpose of which isn’t really clear. What is, is that following the bankruptcy of DeLorean, John tried to start a number of new businesses but was unable to find investors for any of them. Having been charged in a drug smuggling case probably didn’t help, even if he was acquitted…

Dreamcar builder, playboy, indirect filmstar – but probably not a drug smuggler

So there you are – almost. Because following the demise of DeLorean, in 1983 all remaining parts and stock of unsold cars were shipped to Ohio where they sat a few years until they were acquired by a company in Texas called… the DeLorean Motor Company. Still in existance today and present across the US, the “new” DMC built new DeLoreans out of spare parts, sell spare parts, and service and restores DeLoreans. They’ve also had plans to bring back the DeLorean as an electric car for a number of years, but whether that will ever happen is unclear at best – the original launch date was in 2013. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out http://www.delorean.com.

The new DeLorean company, the many owners’ clubs and hereby the good supply of spare parts along with an engine that was widely used and for which parts can also be found thus make the DeLorean a less problematic car to own than you may suspect. Should you be convinced, it should be noted that values of DeLoreans have gone up in the last years and around EUR 50.000 is what a good car will cost you. Looking across the Atlantic could definitely also be worth it, notably thanks to the new DeLorean Motor Company. As with all cars from this period, the manual version is to be preferred over the automatic which will make the experience even slower. The limited power means it’s not much of a sports car and the interior is nowhere near as spectacular as the stainless steel body with the gullwing doors, but few designs have stood the test of time as well, few still catch as much attention and arguably, few cars make you feel more like an 80’s filmstar!

A morning dog walk in December

The good thing with being a dog owner is that it gets you out three times per day, rain or shine, cold or warm. During this Covid year with lots of time spent in the home office, that’s something I’ve really come to appreciate, but having said that, the cold morning walks in December aren’t my favourite ones, especially with drizzling rain from a grey sky. Usually there aren’t even any interesting cars to look at, as the precious ones tend to slumber in a warm garage at this time of year. And then, out of the blue it happens, you run into…. yeah, what exactly?

What on earth is is?

The front has a strange look , a bit frog-eyed, slightly surprised. The body has some strange cracks, indicating this is a fibre class construction. Somehow the car looks like different parts have had different designers before coming together. The only badge had the name “Avanti II” on it. It’s little known but Switzerland has had a couple of car brands over the years, Monteverdi probably being the most well-known, so was this perhaps another one I didn’t know about? Once the dog had done his business and gave me “it’s time for breakfast” look, I briskly went home and started googling. And never would I have thought that I had come across such a rarity!

It turns out Avanti wasn’t the brand but rather the model name. Or…. was it? The Avanti was created by Studebaker, the Indiana (US)-based company who built their first petrol car more than a hundred years ago in 1904 (having built an electric car in 1902!) and that went bust in 1967. Studebaker built an impressive number of models over their 75-year history, arguably because not many saw any success, and the Avanti wasn’t any better, sold only during 18 months in 1963 and 1964. It was positioned as the only 2-door, luxury 4-seater coupé and the main alternative to Ford’s Thunderbird or the Chevy Corvette Stingray. Mind you, this was also the year the 911 was launched, but that wasn’t a big thing on the other side of the Atlantic – yet.

A 1963 Avanti a presented at the launch

The body was designed by none less than Raymond Loewy, THE industrial designer at the time, responsible notably for the shape of the classic Coke bottle, the Shell logo and the Lucky Strike cigarette pack. I’ll leave it to you to judge whether he had smoked one too many when designing the car, especially the front, but with a fibre glass body and an aerodynamic shape, it was true to Loewy’s motto to build light and aerodynamic cars, notably to reduce consumption. Fibre glass was however a new material at the time and one that caused some difficulties in production, just like for the Corvette. Also like the Corvette, the Avanti had a big V8 up front (what else?) which with an optional supercharger put out up to 300 hp. That made the Avanti a fast, futuristic car for the time, but perhaps a little too futuristic for what the US market was ready for. Studebaker only built some 4.900 of the 20.000 planned Avantis, less than a fifth of Chevy Corvettes over the same period, and the company threw in the towel a few years later.

The rear looks better, but looks disconnected from the front

So normally that’s where the story would end. However in this case it takes an unexpected turn, as after Studebaker stopped production, two dealers of the brand bought the Avanti brand name and continued building the car in a small numbers by hand, using original parts, under the name Avanti Motor Company. When parts ran out in 1965 the car was renamed the “Avanti II”. Both parts and engines were now sourced from GM, and the Avanti II would be powered by various Corvette V8’s going forward . This went on until 1982 when the company was sold to a real estate developer under whom notably a convertible was added. He then went bust in 1986 and Avanti was sold again and so it went on, all the way to… 2006. That’s right – the Avanti was built during more than 40 years, albeit with varying engines, chassis and bodies, making it one of the longest model production runs in history! Looking at the design especially of later cars does however make you think that it might have been better to stop production a bit earlier…

4-door Avanti II from the 90’s – someone must have had a really bad day…

So there we go, under the motto “things that can happen on a dog walk”. I don’t expect I’ll ever see an Avanti again and most of you probably won’t either. Should you desperately have fallen in love with the futuristic car there’s a really nice one for sale in Switzerland, pictured below, and there’s 3-4 in Germany and Holland. EUR 50.000 seems to be the entry ticket for a really nice one, the alternative however being to head over the Atlantic were both offer and prices will probably be better. Whereas the mechanics are basic GM it will be pretty impossible to find any body or interior parts anywhere, so make sure you get a nice one. You will practically be guaranteed to drive the only one in your city, country or even continent!

A very nice 1975 Avanti II, currently for sale at Phantomcars in Switzerland

The stunning Swede!

Arguably many beauties have come out of Sweden over the years, but next year the Volvo P1800, hands down the most beautiful Volvo in history if you ask me, will celebrate its 60th birthday. Let’s therefore wind back the clock to the early 60’s and have a closer look at what is not only a good-looking but arguably also one of the most robust oldtimers you can buy. And in the ES shooting brake shape, an even more beautiful and practical one!

An early “English” car – the design didn’t change much through the years!

The P1800 planning at Volvo in Gothenburg started in 1957. Volvo was in full expansion and its management and especially CEO Gunnar Engellau wanted something that would be an eye-catcher both in showrooms and at auto salons. Volvo had already given the sports car segment a try a few years earlier with the roadster P1900, modelled on the Chevy Corvette, but that had proven to be an utter failure with only 67 cars produced. That did however not change Volvo’s enthusiasm for the idea of a sports car, and the design mandate for what was this time going to be a coupé was given to the Italian design firm Frua – where, as became known much later, the 25-year old Swedish design trainee Pelle Petterson was responsible for it… Swedish readers of the blog will know that the same Petterson then went on to become a famous sailor and boat designer.

Launched in 1961, the P1800 was thus an international project form the start. Planned in Sweden, designed in Italy (by a Swede), premiered at the car show in Brussels in 1961, and initially built by Jensen Motors in the UK, as the strong demand Volvo enjoyed meant there was no free production capacity in Sweden. Volvo was lucky to get away with that, as the first 6.000 P1800 built in the UK suffered from massive quality issues. From 1963 onwards production was relocated to Sweden, however the bodywork was still handled in Scotland until 1969. The UK build years 1961-1963 can be seen in the model name “P1800” as the cars subsequently built in Sweden were called “P1800S” (S for Sweden). The injection version from 1971 was referred to as the “P1800E”.

A later, 1967 car in the popular “off-white” colour

The P1800 saw very few modifications through the years. Design-wise the body was left untouched with only minor modifications to turning lights, chrome applications etc. A testament to a good design from the start! In fact the design was deemed so good that the P1800 was chosen as Simon Templar’s (Roger Moore) car in the British cult TV-series “The Saint” that aired through the 60’s. To be honest though, the producers had first asked Jaguar, but when they declined their attention turned to the P1800, which certainly didn’t hurt the popularity of the car.

If the body stayed the same until the end in 1973, the engines did evolve, however moderately. All P1800 derived their engines from the P121 Amazon, with the first British-built cars having the Volvo B18 engine with 100 hp (later 108 hp and 115 hp in the Swedish-built ones). From 1971 the cars had the B20 engine with 135hp. Not only the engine but also most other parts under the body were derived from the Amazon, no doubt one of the most solid creations that has ever been built and pretty much in a league of its own at the time. But whilst solid is good, was the P1800 any fun to drive?

Probably a renovated interior, but with original parts and seats

Well, the honest answer is that compared to some other sports cars at the time, the P1800 was a rather heavy-footed companion. The solidity no doubt came at the expense of the thrill of driving, and there were certainly more fun cars, roadsters and others, if that rather than the looks was the priority. Today it’s of course a different story. You don’t really buy a 60-year old car to drive it on two wheels through the corners and the solidity is probably of bigger appeal, as are the four disc brakes on cars from 1969. The car has aged very well and few oldtimers turn as many heads as the P1800, but one that does is its own sibling – the P1800 ES.

With an E for Estate added to the name, the ES was only produced during the two last production years 1972-1973. Aggressive US emission rules combined with the first oil crisis together contributed to the ES not seeing the interest it deserved, as this was an early version of what we would today call a shooting break. The whole concept was new at the time and looked upon a bit more critically than today, and the car earned many nicknames in different countries, not always very flattering. In the German-speaking part of Europe it went by the slightly morbid “Schneewitchensarg” (Snow White’s coffin), in Sweden it was called the fish car… Beneath the body work, the ES was exactly the same as as the last version of the “normal” P1800 with the 135 hp B20 engine.

The ES didn’t – and still doesn’t – look like any other car!

Finding a P1800 today is becoming tricky and also expensive, even more so the ES, and you may not have the luxury of choosing between model years. That’s however less important given how similar the cars are. If presented with a choice, the first, second and third priority is to check everything, really everything, for rust, which was a big issue at the time. Next, you probably want to avoid the early English cars unless we’re talking about a complete renovation. Finally, you would want to find a late car with the B20 engine and disc brakes all around. If the P1800 ES is your thing, then there’s really only one version to choose from, but in terms of ES colours, my preferred one is not the most common gold but rather the oh so cool 70’s orange one as pictured below! Expect to pay at least EUR 25′-30′ for a decent P1800 today, and probably an extra EUR 10′ for an ES in the same shape. If you’re thinking of renovating then do make sure you know where to find the necessary parts before signing the contract, as some have become increasingly hard to come by.

Perfect colour with the optional roof rack – the practical oldtimer!

So there we are – a Swedish beauty from the 60’s that if treated well will run for a very long time (there’s reportedly a P1800 out there with more than 4 million kms on the counter, still with the first engine!), that is solid as an ox and easy to maintain, and that will turn heads more than most – what more could you possibly wish for?

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What to consider when buying your dream car

When I sold my Triumph TR4 this autumn after ten years and re-invested the money in my deal-of-the-century BMW 650i, quite a few people came to me both questioning my choice, but also asking for tips of things to think about when buying the dream car with a big D. Based on my experience over the years, I therefore decided to put together a few points in this regard that make up this week’s post.

My choice of switching from an oldtimer to a modern car, as mentioned in my previous post that you can read here, was basically a practical consideration based on how little I was using the TR4, that fact that I neither have unlimited space nor an unlimited budget, and a realization that our needs have changed. This is not to say you shouldn’t realize your oldtimer dream, but whether it’s an oldtimer or a modern car you’re dreaming about, there are some basic things to bear in mind.

Age is just a number – or is it?

The car’s age is obviously an indirect function of what your dream car is, but the point here is just to think about the implications the age will have on your ability to use it. To come back to my TR4, the longest trip I did in ten years was with my wife to Lausanne and back, around 600 kms. It was a great trip without any issues, but when we came back home I wasn’t really longing to go any further and I left the car standing for 3 weeks.  If you’re more hardcore or more passionate this will sound ridiculous, but at least for some of us it’s relevant and something you should consider before deciding.

…when life was more hardcore than today…

Other aspects of old vs newer include some of the things we are so used to in modern cars that we don’t even think about them. Take for example the isolation of the convertible top – there is a very big difference between a 50-year old car and a new one in this regard. Connectivity is another one of those things – if you love connecting your phone, remember that Bluetooth is a recent invention. And remember that speaker systems have evolved. Unless you want to listen to the engine all the time, make sure you’re happy with the sound, because drilling holes in the door panels of your new companion is perhaps not what you dream about.

The art of lobbying

The dream car your mind is set on is not necessarily the dream of your partner or other family members, and this is where some convincing and lobbying comes into play. Believe me, that’s a far better way to go than to start by buying the car and putting your partner before a fait accompli. I’ve tried and it’s nothing I would recommend.  I’ll never forget the day we returned from holidays and whilst I brought in the luggage, my wife listened to the answering machine where a car dealer I had just made a deal with but not yet told her about called to confirm it. Somehow, I hadn’t found the right moment… She eventually came around, but I won’t try that again. Your family doesn’t need to be as enthusiastic as you, but it’s good if they’re in on the project and don’t hate your dream car – you risk becoming very lonely otherwise. Furthermore, if it’s a two-seater, that obviously means any children have to stay home. If it’s a convertible, it won’t necessarily be very comfortable in the back seat with the hood off. And so on.

The thrill of maintaining

All cars break down. To a certain extent this can be avoided by going through all the checks at the time of buying, but stuff happens. It probably happens more with oldtimers than with modern cars, but there’s more stuff that can break in modern cars, so all things considered, it may well come out the same. Also, if you believe like I did that oldtimer mechanics are good-hearted guys in it for the passion and not for the money, think again…

Many oldtimer garages still look the same, but prices have gone up…

Whether old or new, there is obviously a cost associated with your dream vehicle, and that cost will depend heavily on both the car’s age, its condition and its complexity. Looking at oldtimers, my TR4 was a relatively safe bet given it was a no-frills car with a four-cylinder engine originating from a tractor (it sounded great but revving wasn’t its thing…). A 12-cylinder E-type or an Aston Martin V8 are a completely different story, as friends of mine have experienced over the last years. I’ve now replaced my TR4 with a modern, 8-cylinder double-turbo 650i and when the guarantee expires, I’m potentially up for much heftier bills than with the TR4, but I like to think that at least I’m aware of it. You should be so as well, and you should set a projected budget aside. If you’re insecure, speak to a specialized garage or a car club who will be able to guide you. Please remember this. I know a frightening number of intelligent people who somehow managed to forget all about it until the day the bill is delivered…

Is depreciaton a friend or foe?

With the exception of a small number of collectible cars that gain in value from day one, as a rule of thumb nothing depreciates as quickly and heavily as luxury cars and as a general rule, the more they cost as new, the more they will loose. After a period of typically 6-10 years, values then stabilize at a fraction of the initial price, and this is when it gets interesting. Allow me to take my 650i as an example. 6 years ago when it was new it cost CHF 175’ with options. 50.000 kms later I paid CHF 36’. That’s a nice little depreciation of 80% or if you prefer, 2.8 CHF per km. Even if Elon gets his way, the whole world turns electric in five years and my resale value goes to zero, I’ll never be close to that depreciation. Also, and this was important to me, a great advantage of buying a heavily depreciated luxury car is that it was built at the time to cost CHF 175’, not CHF 36’ or anything in between. That shows in every single detail, and it’s a very nice feeling.

If this is you’re thing, depreciation runs in the 100.000’s the first years…

That’s one side of the coin, but there is of course also a reason for the heavy depreciation, and that’s the maintenance cost. Having said that, I’m a very strong believer in the market being very far from perfect in this regard, meaning that if you do your research, you can to a certain extent “beat” it. As a rule of thumb, never ever be in a hurry. There are of course situations where it’s warranted to act quickly but generally, there will always be good cars around. Take your time, do your checks, look into the history, speak to experts, call the car club etc. The more you know, the more likely you are to buy the right car, and the better prepared you’ll be.

When I set eyes on a 6-series, it was these type of considerations that led me to opt for the updated 450 hp V8 rather than the pre-2013 408 hp version. The extra power was nice but above all, a bit of research showed that the previous engine had a history of engine failures that can become very expensive. This was not at all reflected in market prices however. I knew which options were important to me, and also that I wanted a fully serviced one-owner car. When that car in the right colour scheme then appeared back in August, I was able to act quickly. Of course things can still happen and I certainly don’t want to sound like a know-it-all in this regard, but I’d like to think that knowledge and some experience have at least lowered the risk.

NEVER go for “almost” right

Finally, perhaps the most important point of all. Coming back to the point of not being in a hurry, never – ever – go for the car that almost has it all. If you want a manual 996, don’t buy the Tiptronic thinking you’ll get used to it, wait for the right one to come around – it will. Don’t buy a blue car if you want a black because it’s almost as nice and after all it was cheaper. You risk thinking about it every time you walk up to the car. If you dream of the 8-cylinder, don’t by the 6-cylinder version. And so on. If you’re realizing a childhood dream, you want reality to be as close to that dream as possible an “almost” won’t cut it. When the right car comes along, you’ll be glad you waited!

So there we go. Not by any means a complete guide, but hopefully a few points that can help guide you in your quest for the dream car! Good luck!

Four is more than two!

quattro (always with a lower-case “q” ). It’s difficult to find a word that has meant more to a carmaker than quattro to Audi. But the quattro concept goes beyond Audi and was to re-define the car world from the early 80’s until four-wheel drive became a common feature in all types of cars. So with the days getting shorter and the roads more slippery, and the original Audi quattro (Ur-quattro, as the Germans would say) celebrating its 40th birthday this year, let’s have a closer look at it, its brilliance as a rally car, and also at the genius of the late legend Ferdinand Piëch, without whom the quattro wouldn’t have happened.

The Audi quattro was truly innovative at the time, including the boxed arches!

To get some perspective we have to wind the clock back to the late 70’s. This wasn’t a very exciting period in the car world in general, and four-wheel drive was at the time something you only found in traditional utility cars like Land Rovers and G-wagons. In Ingolstadt, a bunch of talented Audi engineers under the leadership of Ferdinand Piëch had however started thinking about the possibilities of using four-wheel drive in normal passenger cars, thanks to a room-saving, innovative new differential system.

In parallel there was also talk in the rally world of allowing four-wheel drive on rally cars, which until then had been forbidden. As the visionary he was, Piëch saw the opportunity of developing a new, four-wheel drive sports car and enter it in the world rally championship such as to provide a unique marketing window. This was the first true example of what would become Audi’s long-lived slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik” (something like “head start through technology”). The quattro was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in 1980 and given the rally rules had been re-written in 1979 to allow for four-wheel drive, the timing was perfect.

Not the most pleasant man – but Ferdinand Piëch was both an amazing engineer and marketeer!

Given the Audi quattro was a new concept when it was introduced, Audi weren’t really sure of the demand and modestly estimated it at a few hundred cars. They would be wrong by about 11.000, which was the total number of original Audi quattro’s built between 1980 and 1991! Using the Audi 80 chassis, the quattro also inherited the five-cylinder engine that had so far powered the Audi 100 and 200 (with turbo in the latter). The engine was an engineering tour de force in itself, born out of the need for a smoother engine than a four-cylinder, but in Audi’s case with too little room to fit a front-mounted, longitudinal six-cylinder engine, given the gearbox was placed right behind the engine.

The solution was one of the first mass-produced five-cylinder engines that would come to define Audi over many years almost as much as the quattro concept, and that was said to combine the smoothness of a six-cylinder with the fuel consumption of a four-pot. The first part is true, and it can be added that it does so with a very distinctive sound. The part on the fuel consumption is very much dependent on the driver… In the quattro, the turbo-boosted engine produced 200 hp in the 10-valve version until 1988, which was increased to 220 hp in the 20-valve version for the last three production years.

The radiator had to be placed to the right of the engine, with the turbo to the left.

When you look at the quattro today, the “Vorsprung durch Technik” motto (sorry, sticking to the German version as the translation doesn’t sound as good…) quickly comes to mind. Not that the car is ugly, but it’s certainly not a design masterpiece (then again, neither was the Lancia Delta, the Renault Turbo 2 or other somewhat similar cars from the period). It does however look very purposeful, notably with the the lovely boxed arches that many years later would also come on cars like the Lancia Delta but were very much a first in the early 80’s. They also helped distinguish the quattro from the “standard”, 136 hp Audi Coupé. The interior has that lovely 80’s feel of hard plastic but offers lots of room for four and their luggage, meaning the quattro is a real all-rounder.

The single headlights came in 1982, only early cars have four separate headlights.

When you get behind the wheel, as in most 80’s cars you’re struck not only by the cheap plastic but also by the large windows and the excellent visibility. 200 hp is of course not a lot today, but then again the quattro weighed in at just under 1300 kgs and the turbo character means the car feels rather quick even by today’s standards, helped by an excellent, tight gearbox and, by 80’s standards, precise steering. It also feels solid, obviously not like a modern Audi but more so than many other cars from the period. It’s let down slightly by the breaks that feel soft and not very confidence-inspiring. All in all though, this is a car you can live very well with, knowing that as soon as a twisty back road opens up, the car is ready and will not let you down.

The 80’s won’t be remembered for the interior quality….

As was so often the case, Ferdinand Piëch had been right about entering Audi in the world rally championship and in the early 80’s the quattro became a true rally legend with a total of 23 race wins and four world championships until 1986, thanks to legendary drivers such as Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomquist, Michèle Mouton and of course Walter Röhrl. However, once other brands caught up, the quattro was soon a victim of the less-then-ideal weight distribution that five-cylinder engine pushed all the way to the front of the car caused. Audi stood no chance against the mid-engine competition from 1986 and onwards, but that’s a different story.

The quattro was far more successful than he Sport quattro in rallyes

Interestingly, afraid that the “standard” quattro would be too big and heavy for the new Group B class, Audi presented the Sport Quattro in 1983, a 32 cm shortened group B car of which 164 homologation cars were built for road usage. However the Sport quattro was said to be more difficult to handle and never became as successful on the rally scene as the “standard” quattro. At around 200.000 DM the road version of the Sport quattro was Germany’s most expensive car in 1983, twice as expensive as a 911 Turbo. Today, Sport quattros don’t change owners very often but when they do, it’s at around EUR 500.000.

32 cm less overall length gave the Sport strange proportions, but it remained a very capable rally car!

Should you wish to make the original quattro yours, the good news is that you can take off a zero of the Sport quattro price, as good “standard” quattros trade at around EUR 50.000 today. The 20 valve version from 1989 and onwards cost more but are hardly worth it. Ten years ago both could be had for less than half, but even today a good car, meaning one with a known history and a “tight” driving feel still remains a stable investment – and how could it be different, after all it’s an Audi!

PS. In a class that existed only between 1982 and 1986, the group B rally cars were some of the wildest and most powerful in history. Click the link below for a reminder of what it was like deep down in the Finnish forests, when a 550 hp Sport quattro flew by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDRkHXMHqFo

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When the going gets tough…

This week we’ll explore three truly unique cars. Unique in the number of years they’ve been built. Unique in being able to take you practically anywhere cars can be imagined to go. They could also be claimed to be uniquely basic, and actually uniquely bad for many quite normal driving conditions. And for two of them, they’re also uniquely cheap. But finally, and perhaps most importantly, I would claim they’re unique in having a soul and a cult factor that only very few automobiles ever reach, an that really has nothing to do with the budget.

We’ll start by going to Tuscany where we enjoyed a few days off a couple of weeks ago, notably visiting friends that have a house down there. As so many houses in the Chianti region it’s a bit isolated and lies at the end of an unpaved road, that can at best be described as rather rudimentary. Slightly more than 2 metres wide, with a hill on one side and relatively little on the other, and in addition it had been raining quite a lot the days before we came down. Luckily it wasn’t my “new” 650 we had taken for the trip but rather the family XC90, so I was quite relaxed about the whole thing – until I first realized that the car was almost as wide as the road, and then the wheels started spinning. You see, our modern, fancy SUV’s are technically more than capable of mastering far more than a muddy road, but not with the low profile tires they’re typically equipped with. They’re also quite simply too big for many off-road situations, not to speak of all the nicely painted body parts that could be damaged in the process. Eventually we made it both there and back, and no, I’m not going to claim it was very dramatic, but it gave me reason to think about the 4×4-driving aspect of the thrill of driving, and cars really adapted for a bit rougher conditions.

If it gets too muddy, just switch the tires!

If you look around in Tuscany the car you see more than any other is the good old first generation Fiat Panda, many in the higher-riding 4×4 version. This is obviously not a coincidence. Next to switchable all-wheel drive, some other features that make up a good terrain cars include a short wheel base, short overhangs and good clearance. That’s the Panda 4×4 for you, adding the further advantage of a low weight of only 850 kg, meaning it doesn’t need a massive engine (and that’s good since the power output is around 50 hp). This makes it a perfect car in a hilly region with many narrow roads such as Chianti. Somehow there’s always enough room for a Panda!

Not much that can break here!

The first generation Panda was built for all of 23 years between 1980 and 2003, with two minor facelifts, although emission regulations prevented it from being sold in Europe after 1996. The four-wheel drive version came in 1983 and was built by Puch in Austria. Its interior (very similar to the standard Panda) redefines the word basic, with hard plastic, exposed metal and chairs that look like they’ve been stolen from a camping site. But who cares? Definitely not the people down in Chianti, and not those of us taken aback by the charm of the capable little fellow, something the modern Panda will never get close to. In addition this is really a car on a budget, as EUR 3.000-4.000 will get you plenty of Panda (and no, you don’t need a mint condition car for the usage you should be planning for it), and insurance, tax and fuel consumption will all be so low you’ll hardly notice them. If you can, try to get one with the large canvas sunroof!

Change of scenery: In the early 90’s I spent a couple of years in Moscow, in the transition between the old Soviet Union and the new Russia (that at the time, many hoped would turn out differently than it did…). If you were a real high-flyer in the Soviet era, one of the cool cars to be had was the Lada Niva. The car never really made it in the West, deservedly so as the general quality was extremely poor, but boy was it a capable off-road car. Again, much the same concept: it’s larger than a Panda but still a small car with a short wheel base, low weight, and even more capable, bigger tires. Built since 1976, the Niva (or 4×4 as it’s called today) is still being manufactured and is practically unchanged since the beginning – that’s enough to give it a huge cult factor, and also makes it the car still in production that has been so the longest, since production of the true record holder, the Land Rover Defender, ceased in 2016.

70’s Niva commercial – happy faces all around!

I had a few interesting rides in different Nivas during my time in the wild East, most often with the omnipresent smell of petrol competing with the vodka smell in the driver’s breath. Comfort-wise it’s a catastrophy with uncomfortable seats, terrible suspension, a useless heating system (big problem in the Russian winter!) and the list goes on. But when you turn off the road towards a muddy hill or a forest track, everything changes. Permanent all-wheel drive and switchable differential lock, along with the short wheelbase and low gears make it practically unstoppable. The model year isn’t important since not much has happened anyway, and 3.000-4.000 EUR is plenty of budget in Niva land.

A high-tech Soviet interior

Speaking of the Defender, you can of course not write about long serving cult 4×4’s with true soul without mentioning it, although budget-wise, it puts us in another league. The Defender has a strange appeal across generations: when my son was about five and I took him to the Zurich auto show, the “Africa car” was the only one he was interested in, and when a few years later I borrowed one over a weekend from a friend, pretty much the last thing I was expecting was my wife to say “this is a pretty cool car”. But the Defender is as unique as it is bad in terms of comfort, seating position, noise level etc.

No other car appeals as much to your cave man instincts…

So much has been said and written of it over the many decades it was built (from 1948 to 2016, and I doubt that’s a record the Niva will break!), that not much is left, and there’s not enough room here to go through all the different models. The Defender is a hugely capable terrain car, especially in the 90″ body given the shorter wheelbase, which also looks cooler. They model year is not very important and a car with little terrain usage is obviously to be preferred. Surprisingly enough there’s quite a lot of these, since be it in London or Zurich or elsewhere, for some strange reason this is a car that competes with 911’s as preferred commuting vehicle…

Around EUR 20.000 is where the Defender fun starts, with modern versions or those equipped with high-duty features or camping tents going up to far, far more, making it one of the cars with the least/best depreciation. It’s also been claimed to be the most environmentally-friendly, as no other car averages as many life years as the Defender!

Thie above original Defender from the James Bond “Spectre” movie is currently for sale in Switzerland – for CHF 85.000. Details on request.

So there you go: a charming Italian, a crude Russian and a posh Englishman. All of them a heap of driving fun in their right element, be it in Chianti, Russia or the Scottish highland, and useless in pretty much all other conditions. Why would you buy one unless your house is at the end of a muddy road? Maybe your dream house will one day be just that, and knowing it can easily be handled with the right vehicle puts yo in a better position for the price negotiation. Or maybe, just for the feeling of knowing that if you had to cross the jungle, you could!

The irresistible big cat!

If last week was all about Italianità in all its simplicity with the lovely Alfa Romeo Spider (if you missed the post you can find it here), this week we’ll turn things around a bit and talk about an undisputed future classic, but also a car that complicates things quite a bit in comparison, and replaces pasta al dente under the Tuscan sun with rainy skies, tweet jackets and lush, green country roads: The Jaguar XJ-S (or as it was written in the last years of production, the XJS).

Long time readers of this blog may remember that I wrote a piece about the XJS back in 2016 (read it here), however that was more around its mechanical 12-cylinder engine than the car itself. Given that and also that quite interestingly, and in stark contrast to many other future classics, not much has happened on the price front in the last four years, I felt a fuller description of this true icon of English car manufacturing was called for. Still to this day, the XJS remains something of a bargain – at least in purchase price. That will most probably change in the future.

The XJS was launched in 1975 and produced all the way through 1996, in three distinct series. For a combination of factors, it was far from a resounding success at launch. Firstly, although recognized as rather good-looking, it did succeed the E-Type, one of the greatest designs of all time, which wasn’t to its favor. Secondly it was also a bit misunderstood, as Jaguar never intended the XJS to be a replacement of the E-Type. Instead they were aiming to produce a GT car, comparable to the later Mercedes CL or similar. In that they succeeded, but it took a while for the market to recognize it. Thirdly Jaguar ran into stupid difficulties in some markets such as Germany, where the buttresses behind the windows were deemed to restrict the rear view, and German authorities refused to grant the XJ-S type approval, meaning individual owners had to obtain individual road approvals for their cars – not something that boosted sales numbers… Finally, although there were other 12-cylinder cars in the market at the time, the XJS launched in the wake of the oil crisis and as you will suspect, fuel consumption has never been its strong point…

The rear buttresses (the triangular shapes on the sides of the boot) caused major issues for German clients

So after a difficult launch, the first series was built between 1975-1981 in around 15.000 units and was only available with the 5.3 litre, V12 engine. In the first year the manual gearbox from the E-Type was actually available as an alternative, but that was soon scrapped for the 3-speed, automatic box. The engine developed around 270 hp and made the XJ-S comparable to other V12 cars from Ferrari and Lamborghini at the time.

The second series ran for 10 years until 1991, and now a number of things happened. Next to the coupe, in 1983 a targa convertible was introduced, based on speculation at the time that the US would ban full convertibles for fear of roll-over accidents. That luckily never happened, and Jaguar subsequently replaced the targa with a full convertible in 1988, which contrary to the former became a great success. That of course makes the targa a rare and quite interesting find today, since no more than 5.000 cars were produced in total.

A targa convertible currently for sale in Switzerland

In 1983, the 12-cylinder was also complemented with a 3.6 litre straight six engine that was only available with a manual transmission until 1987. It produced around 230 hp as compared to the 265 hp of the V12, obviously with considerably less torque but also less fuel consumption. Importantly, in 1987 the much outdated, 3-speed automatic was replaced by a more modern, 4-speed ZF one.

By the time of the third series that started in 1991 and ran until the end of production in 1996, Jaguar had been taken over by Ford and was part of Ford’s so-called Premier Auto Group. A number of changes were done to the XJS, both in terms of design (front and rear bumbers and lights, slight changes to the windows and famous buttresses etc.) and engines. The 5.3 litre V12 was increased to 6 litres and around 300 hp, and the straight six was replaced by a 4 litre version.

Irrespective of engine choice, the beautiful interior remains the same

Irrespective of age, there are few cars that have the same level of road presence as an XJS in a very British, understated way, very far from the screaming lines of a Lamborghini. By today’s standard it’s also a much smaller-looking car than it was initially, and its smooth lines obviously only add to the attraction. Driving it is a very similar experience. The 300 hp of the final V12 version that I’ve had the pleasure of trying are enough to make the cat roar should it have to, and steering and body roll are actually much better controlled than could be expected. Where the XJS excels still to this day is however in the smooth gliding department. It’s a comfortable cruiser, very quiet even by modern standards, and with a giant booth that will easily accommodate luggage for two. That’s also to say that the rear seats in the coupe and some convertible versions (the other ones being strict two-seaters) are not meant for humans with legs.

Whether to opt for the most common, 5.3 litre V12 version or rather one of the straight sixes is obviously a decision that can have quite wide-ranging, economic implications. There is no doubt that the V12 is the engine that suits the car best, but you could also argue that the straight six has enough power and is obviously much cheaper to own. Whichever engine you go for, a complete service history is critical – do not take any chances here! The 6-litre V12 from the Ford era has a better reputation for reliability than the previous 5-3 litre version, although both engines are actually quite solid if serviced correctly.

The convertible is generally not more expensive than the coupe

Coming back to the price mentioned initially, a good XJS can still be had for EUR 15.000-20.000, with top cars rarely going beyond EUR 30.000. That’s probably the cheapest V12 you can buy and gives the car a clear upward potential price-wise. As I will come back to in next week’s post however, one reason for the low prices is as so often the far higher running costs, where the V12 is a prime example. But as long as you’re aware of that and find the right car, there are very few cars that provide a similar experience. I would recommend a post-1987 car such as to benefit from the 4-speed automatic box, and if you like the styling of the third series and want a V12, then preferably a post-1991 car. The (full) convertible is the ultimate glider, but the lines come through better in the coupe. It’s really a matter of choice as the convertibles are not more expensive than the coupes. Finally, the targa convertible is the hardest to find but should be most interesting from a value preservation perspective, even though it’s also the most expensive model today.

Find the right car, put on your tweet jacket, make sure there’s fuel in the tank and double-check whether you did start the engine, given how silent it is – silent enough for your passenger to hear you whistling “Rule Britannia” as you set out on your roadtrip!